On the world stage, Pope Francis’s star is burning brighter than ever, now even as nuclear peacemaker between the United States and North Korea. But even within the Church he finds himself at grips with a piecemeal world war, a strange war that he himself has contributed to unleashing, absolutely convinced that it will come to a good end.
Jorge Mario Bergoglio is unquestionably an innovator. But in method, before it can be seen in results.
He always introduces the innovations in little doses, on the sly, perhaps in an allusive footnote, as he did with the now-famous footnote 351 of the postsynodal exhortation “Amoris Laetitia,” only to say later with candor, when questioned on one of his equally famous airborne press conferences, that he doesn’t even remember that footnote.
And yet those few cryptic lines were enough to ignite within the Church an unprecedented conflict, with entire episcopates squaring off, in Germany in favor of the innovations and in Poland against, and so all over the world between diocese and diocese, between parish and parish, where what is at stake is not only the yes or no to communion for the divorced and remarried, but the end of the indissolubility of marriage and the admission of divorce within the Catholic Church too, as is already taking place among Protestants and Orthodox.
There are those who are becoming alarmed over this confusion that pervades the Church. But Francis is doing nothing to put the house back into order. He is moving right along with confidence. No point in even waving to the cardinals who submit their own “doubts” and those of many to him, on capital questions of doctrine that they see under threat, and ask him to bring clarity. He lets run free the most disparate interpretations, whether conservative or progressive in the extreme, without ever explicitly condemning any of them.
The important thing for him is “to cast the seed so that the power may be unleashed,” it is “to mix the leaven so that the power may bring growth,” words from a homily of his a few days ago at Santa Marta. And “if I get my hands dirty, thanks be to God! Because woe to those who preach under the illusion of not getting their hands dirty. These are museum curators.”
Pascal, the philosopher and man of faith whom Francis says he wants to beatify, wrote fiery words against the Jesuits of his time, who threw into the fray their most daring ideas, so that over time they would ripen little by little and become the common opinion.
But this is precisely what the first Jesuit pope in history is doing today: setting into motion “processes” within which he is sowing the innovations that he wants to win out sooner or later, in the most diverse fields, as for example in the judgment on Protestantism.
In Argentina, Bergoglio unleashed terrible invectives against Luther and Calvin. But as pope he is doing the complete opposite, he does nothing but sing Luther’s praises. On a visit to the Lutheran church in Rome, when asked to say whether Catholics and Protestants may receive communion together in spite of the fact that the former believe that the bread and wine “really” become the body and blood of Christ while the latter do not, he answered yes, and then no, and then I don’t know, and then figure it out yourselves, in an ecstasy of contradictions, but in practice giving the go-ahead.
It is the fluidity of his magisterium that is the true novelty of Francis’s pontificate. What he does not tolerate is that anyone should dare to tie it down in clear and distinct ideas, purging it of its innovative contents.
Cardinal Gerhard L. Müller, who as prefect of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith insisted on saying that in “Amoris Laetitia” there was nothing new with respect to tradition, he summarily removed from office.
And Cardinal Robert Sarah, who as prefect of the congregation for divine worship would like to reserve for himself full control of the translations of the Latin missal in the various languages, he publicly humiliated, requiring him to tell all the bishops himself that the pope instead is giving every national Church the freedom to translate as it likes, the embryo of a future Catholic Church no longer monolithic but federated, another of the objectives of Bergoglio, the unrelenting schemer.
(English translation by Matthew Sherry, Ballwin, Missouri, U.S.A.)