The pope’s nearly 11,000 word interview with America Magazine will be debated for months. My contribution to that discussion begins with the following ten takeaways.
May I first beg your forgiveness for my failure to hold up for applause every expression offered by the pope that resembles solid Catholic teaching? Nothing personal; that’s just me. I’m not in the habit of alerting my mechanic every time my truck starts either.
1. Pope Francis is very uncomfortable wielding authority.
“I found myself provincial (in a position of authority in the Jesuit order) when I was still very young. I was only 36 years old. That was crazy. I had to deal with difficult situations, and I made my decisions abruptly and by myself. Yes, but I must add one thing: when I entrust something to someone, I totally trust that person. He or she must make a really big mistake before I rebuke that person. But despite this, eventually people get tired of authoritarianism.”
“My authoritarian and quick manner of making decisions led me to have serious problems and to be accused of being ultraconservative … I have never been a right-winger [but] it was my authoritarian way of making decisions that created problems.”
Clearly, this is a man who took accusations of “conservatism” from the poster boys of liberalism, his brother Jesuits, as if it were a dagger to the heart.
All indications are he isn’t about to make the “mistake” of ruling with authority again.
2. As a result, this is a pope who is determined to seek refuge in the conciliar invention known as “collegiality.”
“The consistories [of cardinals], the synods [of bishops] are, for example, important places to make real and active this consultation. We must, however, give them a less rigid form. I do not want token consultations, but real consultations. The consultation group of eight cardinals, this ‘outsider’ advisory group, is not only my decision, but it is the result of the will of the cardinals, as it was expressed in the general congregations before the conclave. And I want to see that this is a real, not ceremonial consultation.”
His Holiness even went so far as to say of the Orthodox Churches, which are defined by their rejection of papal primacy, “From them we can learn more about the meaning of episcopal collegiality and the tradition of synodality.”
Pope Francis can insist that matters of Church governance are “not only my decision” all he wants, but the simple fact remains, while consulting with his cardinals and other bishops is wise, the Church that Jesus gave us is monarchical in structure, and the pope alone possesses full and supreme power of jurisdiction over the whole Church.
3. Pope Francis’ unwillingness to take up the mantle of Christ’s authority as vested in the Roman Pontiff has a profound, adverse, effect on his ecclesiology.
“The image of the church I like is that of the holy, faithful people of God. This is the definition I often use … the people itself constitutes a subject. And the church is the people of God on the journey through history, with joys and sorrows. Thinking with the church, therefore, is my way of being a part of this people. And all the faithful, considered as a whole, are infallible in matters of belief, and the people display this infallibilitas in credendo, this infallibility in believing, through a supernatural sense of the faith of all the people walking together.”
The “people” may constitute a subject, but certainly this image does not exhaust the objective reality of what the Church is.
What is conspicuously missing, not just from this interview, but from the witness of the past six months, is any evidence that Pope Francis sees himself as anything more than simply a shepherd who walks among his people, as if this body moves about en masse apart from the leadership provided by the occupant of the Throne of St. Peter whom the Lord appointed to serve as the visible head of the whole Church.
4. Perhaps this is why Pope Francis seems to imagine a certain dichotomy, or at the very least, a noteworthy tension, exists between orthodoxy and orthopraxy; belief and practice; doctrine and spirituality.
“If you want to know who Mary is, you ask theologians; if you want to know how to love her, you have to ask the people.”
The threefold office of Christ – teaching, governing and sanctifying – exist, of course, in perfect harmony such that, using the pope’s example, the people could not possibly know how to properly love Mary apart from any one of them.
Furthermore, while a share in these offices is proper in some degree to all the baptized, they are all the more profoundly expressed in the sacred hierarchy, and uniquely so in the Roman Pontiff. While Pope Francis may not explicitly disagree with this statement, his discomfort embracing it is palpable.
5. Pope Francis apparently sees a Church that the overwhelming majority of the faithful have never experienced.
On the heels of last week’s breathtaking comment, “I dare say that the Church has never been so well as it is today,” the pope described a situation that most Catholics can barely even imagine in their wildest dreams:
“A beautiful homily, a genuine sermon must begin with the first proclamation, with the proclamation of salvation. There is nothing more solid, deep and sure than this proclamation. Then you have to do catechesis. Then you can draw even a moral consequence. But the proclamation of the saving love of God comes before moral and religious imperatives. Today sometimes it seems that the opposite order is prevailing.”
Rare indeed is the parish that puts “moral and religious imperatives” before the generic Christian warm and fuzzies.
The disconnect between the Holy Father’s idea of what’s it’s like to dwell in the Church today, and the bitter reality of the obstacles faced by those who wish to live a fully Catholic life, is nothing short of stunning.
6. This pope, like his immediate predecessors, is utterly determined not to allow “the facts on the ground” to interfere with his view of the Second Vatican Council.
“Vatican II produced a renewal movement that simply comes from the same Gospel. Its fruits are enormous. Just recall the liturgy. The work of liturgical reform has been a service to the people as a re-reading of the Gospel from a concrete historical situation.”
Pope Francis obviously dwells in the same parallel universe from whence John Paul II said, “The vast majority of the pastors and the Christian people have accepted the liturgical reform in a spirit of obedience and indeed joyful fervor,” even as the real fruits of the post-conciliar liturgical reform were such that desolate parishes were being boarded up at an alarming rate in dioceses all over the world as he spoke.
7. Pope Francis’ determination to praise Vatican II, and to treat it as if it alone constitutes the fullness of sure doctrine, has engendered in him an open hostility toward those who dare to embrace the doctrine of the faith as it was taught and lived prior to the confusion that was ushered in by the conciliar innovations, firstly, with regard to liturgy.
“Then there are particular issues, like the liturgy according to the Vetus Ordo. I think the decision of Pope Benedict [his decision of July 7, 2007, to allow a wider use of the Tridentine Mass] was prudent and motivated by the desire to help people who have this sensitivity. What is worrying, though, is the risk of the ideologization of the Vetus Ordo, its exploitation.”
Apparently, His Holiness simply dismissed the letter of explanation that accompanied Summorum Pontificum, as well as the Instruction for its application that followed some four years later. If not, he would realize that the effort to make the traditional liturgy, which has never been abrogated, readily available has nothing whatsoever to do with some condescending notion of placating “people who have this sensitivity;” rather, it is motivated by the reality that “the Usus Antiquior, [is] considered as a precious treasure to be preserved … for the good of the faithful” (Instruction on the Application of Summorum Pontificum).
8. Pope Francis’ hostility toward traditional Catholics also has roots in his compromised ecclesiology.
“If the Christian is a restorationist, a legalist, if he wants everything clear and safe, then he will find nothing. Tradition and memory of the past must help us to have the courage to open up new areas to God. Those who today always look for disciplinarian solutions, those who long for an exaggerated doctrinal ‘security,’ those who stubbornly try to recover a past that no longer exists—they have a static and inward-directed view of things. In this way, faith becomes an ideology among other ideologies. I have a dogmatic certainty: God is in every person’s life.”
Imagine, here is a pope openly criticizing as “legalists” those who expect the Church to provide precisely what should be expected of every Holy Mother; steadfast assurance, clarity, and safety.
If that’s not preposterous enough, he states that those who seek in the Church what are ultimately characteristics of God Himself (clarity and safety), ends up with “nothing!” It’s as if he imagines that doctrinal fluidity, ambiguity and exposure to the lies of the Devil are gifts from on high.
It is interesting to note how in this context the pope falls back on what he calls a “dogmatic certainty” that “God is in every person’s life.”
Does the Catholic Church have anything to offer beyond this?
“Religion has the right to express its opinion in the service of the people, but God in creation has set us free: it is not possible to interfere spiritually in the life of a person,” the Holy Father says.
It’s not immediately clear whether or not the pope intended to include “Catholicism” in this generic reference to “religion,” but this certainly seems to be the case. This begs the obvious question: Does the Vicar of Christ really believe that the doctrine of the faith is but an “opinion” that threatens to “interfere” with an individual’s spiritual life?
I would be delighted to say that there is good reason to dismiss this possibility out of hand, but I’m afraid I cannot.
9. Pope Francis appears to believe that Catholic teaching must be adapted to humankind, not vice versa. Likewise, he believes that Church teaching does not form the man; rather, the man forms the teaching.
“When does a formulation of thought cease to be valid? When it loses sight of the human or even when it is afraid of the human or deluded about itself … The thinking of the church must recover genius and better understand how human beings understand themselves today, in order to develop and deepen the church’s teaching.”
The unavoidable conclusion one must take away from the pope’s comments are that he imagines that doctrinal formulae once considered nurturing for the soul can become poison simply with the passage of time.
At this, we have arrived at the most fundamentally important takeaway from this interview, and indeed the entire six months of this pontificate.
10. Pope Francis is a modernist.
“St. Vincent of Lerins makes a comparison between the biological development of man and the transmission from one era to another of the deposit of faith, which grows and is strengthened with time … The view of the church’s teaching as a monolith to defend without nuance or different understandings is wrong.”
St. Vincent of Lerins in no way encouraged “different understandings.” Rather, he said, “Now in the Catholic Church itself we take the greatest care to hold that which has been believed everywhere, always and by all … we in no wise depart from those interpretations which it is clear that our ancestors and fathers proclaimed.”
Pope St. Pius X, in his magnificent Encyclical, Pascendi Dominici Gregis, On the Doctrines of the Modernists, said regarding the false notion that human experience somehow renders a “different understanding” of Catholic truth, “This doctrine of experience is also under another aspect entirely contrary to Catholic truth. It is extended and applied to tradition, as hitherto understood by the Church, and destroys it.”
Furthermore, the Oath Against Modernism states very clearly:
“Finally, I declare that I am completely opposed to the error of the modernists who hold that … dogma may be tailored according to what seems better and more suited to the culture of each age; rather, that the absolute and immutable truth preached by the apostles from the beginning may never be believed to be different, may never be understood in any other way.” [Emphasis added]
This, I’m afraid, is a pledge this Holy Father could not, in good conscience, take.
We must us fast and pray much for this Holy Father, that he may, by the grace of God, govern the Church according to His will.