The times are so strange that it’s not just yahoos on Twitter carelessly slinging the S-word around for entertainment but the pope himself. In the latest of Bergoglio’s now considerably less newsworthy airplane pressers, he was asked by the New York Times’ Jason Drew Horowitz for his reaction to the critical websites (like this one, I guess) from the United States and the rumours of a “plot” against the pope and his “reforms”:
“Is there something that these critics do not understand about your pontificate? Is there something that you have learned from your critics? Are you afraid of a schism in the American Church? And if so, is there something that you could do – a dialogue – to keep it from happening?”
Remnant editor Michael Matt has already done a pretty thorough roasting of the papal response on YouTube, so no need to retrace that ground. But it might be useful, as always, to take a closer look at it to see if there are any useful negative lessons to be taken away; meaning, if we can figure out what he’s saying, we can do the opposite and perhaps benefit our souls.
Pope Francis does not speak like a Catholic, and much of what he says – many of his oft-repeated tropes apparently being the common tongue of forward-thinking Jesuit academics – can easily be mistaken for gibberish. But over the last few years it’s possible to discern a pattern and perhaps even get a knack for interpreting him. And from there we can perhaps apply the rule of the bad parental example.
First, the response, in which the papal tropes start falling like autumn leaves:
It is an ideology, perhaps correct, but that engages doctrine and detaches it… And so I pray that schisms do not happen, but I am not afraid of them. This is one of the results of Vatican II, not because of this or that Pope... Ideologies enter into doctrine and when doctrine slips into ideology that’s where there’s the possibility of a schism.
There’s the ideology of the primacy of a sterile morality regarding the morality of the people of God. The pastors must lead their flock between grace and sin, because this is evangelical morality.
Instead, a morality based on such a Pelagian ideology leads you to rigidity, and today we have many schools of rigidity within the Church, which are not schisms, but pseudo-schismatic Christian developments that will end badly.
When you see rigid Christians, bishops, priests, there are problems behind that, not Gospel holiness.”
Notably, this response had even the secular journalists on the plane reportedly wondering if the pope of the Catholic Church were even interested in the religion he is pledged to defend. One, apparently, wondered if maybe he has the beginnings of dementia. But these have not taken the time to understand him from the point of view of 1970s Jesuit anti-theology.
Perhaps the key to opening the mind of the pope is not even his Jesuit academic training. Maybe it’s Lewis Carroll. In her adventures Through the Looking Glass, Alice meets Humpty Dumpty and they get into a discussion about language and politics:
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master — that’s all.”
Humpty Dumpty, the good Maoist Peronist, understands what words are for in politics. He goes on to explain about words:
“I can manage the whole lot of them! Impenetrability! That’s what I say!”
“Would you tell me please,” said Alice, “what that means?”
“Now you talk like a reasonable child,” said Humpty Dumpty, looking very much pleased. “I meant by ‘impenetrability’ that we’ve had enough of that subject…”
Pope Dumpty understands that words are about power, and Alice gains his papal approval by acknowledging his mastery, that’s all.
Let’s take a look at the buzzwords: “Gospel holiness,” “ideology,” “rigid Christians,” “Pelagian ideology,” “sterile morality” and a comment that should perhaps be saved for the record books: “The pastors must lead their flock between grace and sin, because this is evangelical morality.”
I’ve done something on this “ideology” business before, but maybe we should look at it again. In brief, it means that any attempt to live your life according to Catholic moral teaching, as it has until recently been taught, is “ideological”. “Ideology” is when you look up what Jesus of Nazareth said in the Gospels and take it for a final word, because of Him being the Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, for Whom and through Whom all things were made. This is a “sterile morality” and a “Pelagian ideology” of “rigid Christians.” I believe one of his fellow travelers on Twitter recently derided this kind of morality as “idolatry” of Christ, which he seemed to think made some kind of sense.
No no! Instead, pastors must “accompany them gently” to help them find a kind of via media between right and wrong, “between grace and sin”. This is “evangelical morality,” and “Gospel holiness”. Not, we must hasten to add, the holiness outlined in the Gospels, the actual words found in the Bible, that say we must avoid sin because it will damn our souls to eternal fire. The pope’s favourite phrase, “the Gospel,” (along with “the Spirit”) doesn’t mean anything so clear. It is perhaps best summed up in one of his previous expressions: “the fragrance of the Gospel.” It’s a feeling, a “fragrance,” a vibe. The idea of reading the actual words of the actual Gospels to see what Christ actually said to do… and then doing it… well, that’s ideology.
If a journalist on the plane had known anything about Catholicism, he might have usefully asked, “In which of the Gospels do we find the idea of pastors leading the flock ‘between grace and sin’? Can you please name a chapter and a verse?” But maybe that’s just not the sort of question a journalist who wants to keep his seat on the papal plane would ask.
None of these expressions have anything to do with “rigid” ideas like words having meaning. If it did, the actual words of Jesus of Nazareth, plainly available to anyone who might care to open the book, would have halted the entire Amoris Laetitia festival in its tracks:
“Because Moses by reason of the hardness of your heart permitted you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so. And I say unto you, whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and he that shall marry her that is put away, committeth adultery.”
Who is this guy, anyway? This is just Jesus of Nazareth speaking in the Gospel of Matthew (the historicity of which is questionable, and the “inerrancy” of which, while never denied, is certainly open to interpretation). The actual Gospels, not “the Gospel”; Jesus Christ, not “the Christ of the Gospel.”
Confused? Good. So are they. These are the times in which a cardinal of the Church can stand up in the aula of the Synod in the Vatican, in front of the pope and 300 bishops, and suggest that we don’t need to worry about the actual words of Jesus of Nazareth in the Gospels (of Mark and Matthew) saying that divorce is not on. We can just reject them. Just forget about that Jesus of Nazareth guy. What good has ever come out of that place anyway?
Not one single prelate present on October 5th, 2015 stood up and shouted down Jose Luiz Cardinal Lacunza Maestrojuan, president of the Panamanian Bishops’ Conference and special papal appointee to the Synod, when he said, “Moses drew near to the people and gave way. Likewise today, the ‘hardness of hearts’ opposes God’s plan. Could Peter not be merciful like Moses?”
To this nauseating, twisted and demonic blasphemy, the Greek-Melkite Patriarch of Antioch, His Beatitude Gregory III Laham, completely failed to bluster, saying only that one should “show the spiritual beauty of marriage.” “Jesus corrected Moses. Dissoluble marriage is against its nature.” No reports have come forward of any prelates taken by the seat of the pants and the scruff of the neck by a Swiss Guard and tossed into the street that day.
All of this mental fruit puree is possible because to these men, politics is religion. They are incapable of conceptualising a theological Catholicism that applies a religious framework of transcendent reality to day to day human life and societies. To such men the “concrete reality” of men and women “suffering” because they are unable to receive Holy Communion, because they are unrepentant adulterers, will always trump some “rigid,” “Pelagian,” “ideological” moral flummery. All that stuff is just fodder for debate at theological conferences; it doesn’t actually, you know, apply to anyone.
This pope’s mind is entirely political, entirely earthly, entirely material. He is the embodiment of the modern materialism that has no conceptual framework for transcendent religious ideas. A mind of this kind is incapable of thinking of religion as supernatural or transcendent or applicable. This kind of mind can only think that the application of Catholic moral doctrine as a kind of rival political ideology. This was greatly assisted by the American Culture Wars in the 1980s and ‘90s, when Catholics – often working class, and without benefit of extensive Jesuit academic backgrounds – took their Church’s moral teaching and tried to see it applied in the real world of law. To the Jesuit-Modernist materialist, this is a kind of blasphemy.
This is what a South American Jesuit of that period would see as “ideology” or turning “the Gospel” into an ideology. The idea that a Catholic should try to integrate his private moral life with his public life – a perfectly ordinary idea to most Catholics in the world until 1965 – is cast by this clique as “right wing political ideology”. This makes the pope very popular with the mainstream secular press, since it is identical to their narrative framework; to them he’s a kind of Pope Mario Cuomo. The kind of Catholicism that strictly separates “personal” morality from legislative voting habits is their kind of Catholicism.
This attempt to radically separate “personal morality” from public life is in fact, precisely what popes had been warning Catholics not to do since the publication of the Syllabus of Errors (and about which they abruptly ceased to warn in the mid-20th century.) People who listen to the pope and conclude he is a communist or a socialist seem to have failed to do the required reading. Communism and Socialism are symptoms, secondary effects, not causes. He’s a classical Modernist, and it has led in him where popes of the past flatly warned it would go: “the annihilation of all religion.”
This summer a group of prelates issued a statement titled, “Declaration of the Truths Relating to Some of the Most Common Errors in the Life of the Church of Our Time” that said the faithful “feel themselves abandoned” by the leadership of the Church. Never a truer word has been spoken. This month some of the same prelates, Cardinal Burke and Bishop Athanasius Schneider, have asked for a crusade of fasting and prayer in the last weeks before the start of the Amazon Synod. I had an interesting and useful analysis from a clerical friend via email about why these men - so far as we can see the only Catholics left in the hierarchy – seem to be doing so little, at least in the estimation of some of the louder online blowhards.
My friend writes in response to his own frustration, but with perhaps more understanding:
“I still doubt that the Amazon synod will be the Big One, the blow that finally cracks the Church's outward unity under the Pope. I say ‘outward’ because there has been a papered-over material schism for decades, with neither side being willing to force the issue to its logical conclusion, with desperate obfuscations and the usual attempt at a V2ish, quasi-Anglican Via Media. I think what will follow will be more of that, though pressing the limits farther, daring the traditionalist and conservative critics to do something.
“But because of their reverence for the Petrine Office, they are paralyzed; and Pope Bergoglio is cunning enough to allow enough obfuscation that the troubled critics can reassure themselves that they have not committed formal heresy. I don’t think that Traditionalist and conservative Catholics are willing to break with the Pope.
“So what can they do to resist effectively, given that they depend on the papally-authorized hierarchy for priests? The only thing I could imagine is that a large part of those who have hitherto been willing to bear with the situation for the sake of unity with the Successor of Peter may go the SSPX route and enter some kind of affiliation with them.
“Bishop Schneider is very good, but when he retires or dies, I think we know what kind of bishop will be appointed to take his place. The weakness of the conservative and Traditionalist Catholics, other than the SSPX, is precisely that they are dependent on the establishment for bishops who will ordain priests for them.
“What happens when the Bergoglians see to it that no orthodox seminarian can hope to become a priest? Where will they go?”
I don’t know. But I do know one thing; the Faith will continue to attract. Honest men will love the truth, and will love the Author of truth and want to follow Him. The sheep know the voice of the True Shepherd, and will follow Him. “Truth is like a lion; it doesn’t need defending. Just let it out and it will defend itself.” The obviously incoherence of this pontificate is accomplishing one thing above all, and I’m sorry if I have said it too much: people are coming to see it. Truth is finally getting out.