Lost Shepherd: How Pope Francis is Misleading His Flock – A Book Review by Karl Keating


The following is from a December 23 Facebook posting by Karl Keating, the founder of Catholic Answers and author of Catholicism and Fundamentalism (among other books). Links inserted by California Catholic Daily. Philip Lawler, the editor at Catholic World News, has a new book coming out February 26: Lost Shepherd: How Pope Francis is Misleading His Flock (On December 19 I critiqued the book’s cover in a Facebook post. KK)


In the introduction Lawler says that, over the course of several years, “I did my best to provide assurance—for my readers and sometimes for myself—that despite his sometimes alarming remarks, Francis was not a radical, was not leading the Church away from the ancient sources of the Faith. But gradually, reluctantly, I came to the conclusion that he was.”


Lost Shepherd

Unlike some of the most vocal critics of this pope, Lawler took his time and gave him the benefit of every doubt. The result is 256 pages that lay out recent history well, without exaggeration or histrionics and with enough to substantiate Lawler’s reluctant conclusions.


Toward the end of the introduction he says, “I found I could no longer pretend that Francis was merely offering a novel interpretation of Catholic doctrine. No, it was more than that. He was engaged in a deliberate effort to change what the Church teaches.”


Lawler cautions against following the logic of certain Traditionalists who came out against Francis almost before the new pope stepped out on the balcony to give his first greeting. “Francis is not an anti-pope, much less the Antichrist. The see of Peter is not vacant, and Benedict is not the ‘real’ pontiff.” All such notions are nonsense, says Lawler, and not one of them helps to understand the reality of the situation. In fact, they do nothing but obscure.


The middle half of the book concerns the development and meaning of some of Pope Francis’s writings. Much space is given to “Amoris Laetitia.” Lawler says it “is not a revolutionary document. It is a subversive one. Francis has not overthrown the traditional teaching of the Church, as many Catholics hoped or feared that he would.” The document gives wide pastoral latitude, enough so that, in practice, in certain areas the traditional teaching of the Church can be set aside while not being denied.


To me the most interesting parts of the book concern Francis’s background in Argentina, his personal style (preemptory, conniving, sometimes even using low language), and his very “Jesuitical” machinations before and after becoming pope. In these regards he is quite unlike his predecessors—at least unlike all the other popes of my lifetime.


Perhaps most noticeably, Francis has been a scold.


“His rhetoric was radically at odds with his pulpit statements about the need to ‘accompany’ sinners, to tolerate disagreements, to reach out to new constituencies,” says Lawler. “In his own preaching he hectored his listeners, denouncing more than encouraging.”

The result—especially in consequence of preachings and talks he has given to Vatican officials and staff—has been a plummeting morale and a not unjustified fear of accusations of disloyalty.


Some Vatican staff members, even prominent members of prominent dicasteries, have been removed without a fare-thee-well, without explanation. Apparently phones have been tapped, conversations overheard. The result has been a widespread fear to say anything critical about anything, lest one lose one’s job. It is then not surprising to learn that “the pope selects his associates on the basis of personal loyalty rather than theological acumen or pastoral performance,” concludes Lawyer.


I can’t help thinking that in certain respects Pope Francis is much like President Trump. Each places more emphasis on loyalty than on skill. Each has gone through lots of aides and associates. The turnover rate at the Vatican, as at the White House, has been high.


What about the vaunted “Francis revival” around the world? There hasn’t been one, says Lawler. For example, worldwide the number of seminarians was increasing for years, up through 2012. The number has been in decline since then. Ditto for attendance at the pope’s Wednesday audiences.


At the beginning of his reign it was common to see 40,000 people or more in St. Peter’s Square. Now it’s not uncommon to see fewer than 15,000. Francis’s two immediate predecessors usually spoke to colonnade-to-colonnade audiences, but something has changed. The enthusiasm has waned.


Did the Holy Spirit goof at the conclave? No, as then-Cardinal Ratzinger noted in 1990: “Thus the Spirit’s role should be understood in a much more elastic sense, not that he dictates the candidate for whom one must vote. Probably the only assurance he offers is that the thing cannot be totally ruined.”


But “the thing” has been damaged, insists Lawler. “The damage done by Francis cannot be repaired unless it is recognized. Denying problems and papering over the differences only amplifies the confusion.”


As for the pope’s signature piece, Lawler says, “Yes, there are some fine passages in ‘Amoris Laetitia.’ But on the whole it fails as a teaching document because, as the saying goes, what is good is not new, and what is new is not good.” That said, “Pope Francis has not taught heresy, but the confusion he has stirred up has destabilized the universal Church.”


Lawler thinks it could take a long time for the Church to find its equilibrium again. One hopes not. One hopes for a successor who can right the Barque of Peter quickly, before too many passengers lose hope or abandon ship.


One way to minimize that is to read Lawler’s book and to understand how a conscientious and well-connected writer came to the conclusions he did.


Cal Catholic post script: In 1986 Lawler was hired by Cardinal Law as editor of the Boston Archdiocese paper, the Boston Pilot. Lawler resigned a year later. In 2008 he published The Faithful Departed about the collapse of Catholic culture in the wake of the pedophile scandals.

About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
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