“How long Lord?” has become the ever increasing refrain as the practicing faithful have looked on hopelessly, helplessly and powerlessly while they’re excluded and marginalized and we’re plunged into a crisis that could end up being worse than the Arian controversy, according to some Church historians.
Six years ago, it seemed as though matters might be coming to a head. We had had all the fallout from the family synods and Amoris Laetitia; we’d had a group of eminent Catholic scholars and clergy who had just accused Pope Francis of heresy; and we’d just had the news that Cardinal Carlo Caffarra had died and within days Pope Francis had effectively gutted the Pope St. John Paul II Institute for Marriage and the Family that the cardinal had founded. Also that year was the 100th anniversary of the Marian apparitions of Fatima, and there was hope that divine intervention might bring this dark period to a halt.
Could Pope Francis, and only a pope like Francis, unwittingly be the means by which the Lord is expurgating the corruptions that have infiltrated the Church for so long and be restoring the Bride of Christ to her true glory?
But, as we know, Our Lady asked for penance and reparation at Fatima and before that at Lourdes. That hasn’t happened, so the upheavals have gone on apace, whether it’s the traditional Mass that’s been quashed, the German Synodal Way that’s been allowed to continue effectively unchecked, or the scandals, both papal related and otherwise, that seem to never end.
Meanwhile those fully supportive of this revolution are pleased that it appears to have moved up a gear in recent months. Although in reality they still haven’t got much of what they’re aiming for (a clear change in Church governance, women deacons, married clergy and normalisation of homosexuality), with the Synod on Synodality, they’re rather dizzy at the thought that these seem to be finally within reach.
Of course it’s impossible to know for sure why this is all happening, or rather being allowed to happen, but in this talk I’ll be looking at some theories drawn from some trustworthy sources in Rome and elsewhere to explore what this might all mean and where we could be heading. Hopefully, through this, I can dare to at least offer some glimmers of light at the end of this seemingly interminable tunnel.
The Great Revealing
A few months ago, Joseph Bevan, a friend in England and a devout Catholic father of 10 — two of whom are priests and one a nun — made an interesting and thought-provoking comment in an article he’d written for Catholic media.
“The current crisis,” he said, “is absolutely essential for the ultimate triumph of the Catholic Church.” Part of God’s plan, he continued, “must be to crush the modernist heresy at the heart of the Church, and for that to happen, the heresy must be given free rein so that it can finally burn itself out. Those who are pining for Pope Francis to be replaced by another Pope Benedict,” he said, “have fundamentally misunderstood the situation.”
Speaking as a journalist covering the Vatican it’s undeniably true that, over the past ten and a half years of Francis pontificate, the lid over so many of the corruptions in the Catholic Church has come right off.
It’s a bold thesis but could Mr. Bevan be right? Could this seeming destruction actually be the means by which the modernist heresy that’s become so ingrained in the institutional Church is rooted out? And could Pope Francis, and only a pope like Francis, unwittingly be the means by which the Lord is expurgating the corruptions that have infiltrated the Church for so long and be restoring the Bride of Christ to her true glory?
To answer these questions is well beyond my capability as a journalist, but what I have done is obtain the opinions of others far better qualified than me. So I put Joseph’s thesis to several respected Church figures mostly living in Rome. They all agreed on one point which is necessary for Joseph’s theory to become a reality, that this period has been immensely revelatory (albeit also painful).
Cardinal Raymond Burke said, and I quote: “It’s a question I’ve often asked myself. Why does God permit this as part of his permissive will? What keeps coming back to me,” he said, “is that it is all brought out into the open — all the terrible corruption, sexual, financial, doctrinal. In that way, too, it’s opened up a lot of people’s eyes to realise how lethal and how harmful is this whole post-conciliar rebellion that took place.”
It’s also revealed the richness of the traditional liturgy, he said, and its importance at this time. The sacramental rites in the reformed liturgy are not invalid, he stressed, but many people are now realizing that “they’re not substantial like in the usus antiquior, and we need in these times the most substantial [help],” he said.
“Everything’s been weakened,” he continued, reflecting on the damage that the post-conciliar era has brought. “For instance the book of blessings, now you don’t bless anything, you bless the people who are around. There’s been a loss of the supernatural.”
But he also observed, and I quote: “Adherence to tradition is growing stronger every day, the Mass, doctrine. I’m so impressed with some out of print, solid compendiums of theology and so forth that are coming back that were out of print and seemingly selling.”
This phenomenon of revealing the ills of the institutional Church, which the Catholic writer Hilary White coined some years ago as the “Great Clarification,” is itself becoming increasingly apparent to many.
Her argument, which has also become known as the “Hilary Thesis,” is that during the pontificates of Benedict XVI and John Paul II, the status quo was clearly very much preserved. Clearly heterodox prelates, mostly but not always rebelling under the surface, were tolerated and some even promoted to top Church positions, while corruptions and abuse were carefully managed or simply covered up.
What was always clearly sinful and wrong is increasingly encouraged, affirmed, or at least given a wink and a nod, while the practicing faithful who are trying to abide by established Church teaching are chastised, banished, and even seen as the enemy by top Church leaders.
And this, White argues, was aided and abetted by middle of the road, conservative Catholics, who, though no doubt with the best of intentions, thought a “polite middle way” could be found between the modernism that had infiltrated the Church and apostolic tradition.
“But compromise,” says White, “has no place in the crystalline world of absolute truth in which God dwells and which the Church is supposed to model here on earth.” Such an approach has never worked, she says, as the Church is supposed to be a beacon of truth in a world of lies and deception.
While some might wish to debate the finer points of Hilary’s thesis, speaking as a journalist covering the Vatican it’s undeniably true that, over the past ten and a half years of Francis pontificate, the lid over so many of the corruptions in the Catholic Church has come right off. “The core principles of the Church have come into sharp focus,” a senior Churchman told me this week. Perhaps one could also say that as the times have grown darker for the Church, so the truth is beginning to shine more brightly, but rather like the Picture of Dorian Gray, it’s not a pretty image that’s coming into view.
This seems to be especially true when it comes to doctrine. As this pontificate has barrelled on into a dark void of experimentation and goodness knows what, so orthodoxy has been pushed aside and we’ve seen an inversion take place, most notably regarding the Church’s model of governance.
This has been witnessed most clearly through the Pope’s apostolic constitution for the Roman Curia Praedicate Evangelium, the German Synodal Way which made upturning the hierarchy a corner-stone of its discussions, and it now looks set to at least be further considered at the upcoming synod. The Pope, who has been nothing if not truthful about his intentions, has spoken openly and favourably about an “inverted pyramid” structure of governance, more collegial but also where the laity lead and the hierarchy follow (up to a point).
More disturbingly, morally we’ve also seen an inversion. What was always clearly sinful and wrong is increasingly encouraged, affirmed, or at least given a wink and a nod, while the practicing faithful who are trying to abide by established Church teaching are chastised, banished, and even seen as the enemy by top Church leaders. Any impartial observer could easily identify a “diabolical disorientation” happening, one that Sr. Lucia mentioned in her letters written in the early 1970s.
Traditionis Custodes of course played a major part in this awakening, especially when one considers why it was enacted. “They can’t tolerate the traditional liturgy because it passes judgment on what they’re doing,” I was told this week by a senior Church official.
Regarding the liturgy, Traditionis Custodes of course played a major part in this awakening, especially when one considers why it was enacted. “They can’t tolerate the traditional liturgy because it passes judgment on what they’re doing,” I was told this week by a senior Church official. It’s also shone a light on the loss of the supernatural within the institutional Church as Cardinal Burke said earlier, largely due to a defective rite and a growing, wrong sort of humanism cherished in “classical” quarters, but ultimately laden with modernism.
In addition we’ve seen an ever more syncretistic approach to ecumenism and other religions, and, of course, an over-involvement in global politics along with submission to secular values at the expense of promoting the Church’s teaching and emphasising the salvation of souls. As this process continues, so it seems does talk of a one-world religion, helped along by papal statements such as “God wills the pluralism and diversity of religions.”
These observations I’m making come, of course, from a traditional, orthodox, or simply Catholic perspective, but even those allied to Francis’ vision can see how much has been revealed, albeit through a different lens.
Massimo Borghesi, who’s regarded as Pope Francis’ intellectual biographer, told me recently that Francis is bringing to light “the grave sins that have been hidden over the past 50 years, the ‘filth within the Church,’ which Cardinal Ratzinger spoke of before his election as Pope.”
“The fact,” Borghesi said, “that the misdeeds of priests and religious have been hidden for so long reveals a ‘clerical’ conception of the Church, that of a closed world that considers itself perfect, immune from all sin.” Did he give Fr Rupnik, Bishop Zanchetta, Bishop Baros, Theodore McCarrick as examples? No, but he said Francis was revealing all of this, moving along a road of transparency that Benedict began and which, Borghesi contended, owes itself “to the Second Vatican Council.”
Although it’s important to add that Francis tends to reveal things when pushed by events. When it’s his initiative, he tends to hide things or not apply sanctions (if they’re modernists or friends), or make them work for him as accomplices. He’s helped to reveal financial crime that has rotted the Vatican and corrupted not a few dioceses, for example, but only because events forced him to.
St. Pius X warned [modernism] would extinguish the light of faith were it allowed contaminate the minds and hearts of the faithful.
Isolating Modernism and Rooting it Out
But to return to the doctrinal corruption: for many practicing, catechised faithful, and I suspect that includes everyone here, the clearer and more profound revelation has been the extent to which modernism has entered the Church, something of course that Pope St. Pius X drew attention many years ago and then Archbishop Lefebvre, but which seems to now be coming into clearer focus.
It’s perhaps helpful here to define modernism: an attempt at reconciling the Catholicism with modern culture, rejecting traditional beliefs and practices seen as outdated, emphasising individualism and subjectivity, and accomplishing all of this by using Catholic terms but twisting or emptying them of their true meaning in order to weaken the Church’s revealed doctrine. St. Pius X warned it would extinguish the light of faith were it allowed contaminate the minds and hearts of the faithful. (It’s interesting that the reading at Mass today is 2 Timothy 4 1-8 which sums up well this time I think: “For there will be a time when they will not endure sound doctrine; but according to their own desires, they will heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears”).
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