LET THE READER BEWARE !! IT IS WITH MUCH MISGIVING THAT I PUBLISH THIS ARTICLE BY ROSS DOUTHAT. IN HIS STRIVING FOR OBJECTIVITY DOUTHAT IS UNCRITICAL OF FRANCIS’ HERESIES AND ASSUMES THE POSTURE OF A NON-BELIEVER WITNESSING A FIGHT BETWEEN CONSERVATIVES AND LIBERALS. HIS IMPARTIALITY RENDERS HIS NARRATIVE DANGEROUS FOR A CONSERVATIVE CATHOLIC WHO ACCEPTS THE NICENE CREED AND THE CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH AS CLEAR EXPOSITIONS OF WHAT CATHOLICS MUST BELIEVE IN ORDER TO BE FULLY MEMBERS OF THE CHURCH. READ HIS ARTICLE WITH A CRITICAL EYE.


Will Pope Francis Break the Church?

The new pope’s choices stir high hopes among liberal Catholics and intense uncertainty among conservatives. Deep divisions may lie ahead.


  • THE ATLANTIC

in 1979, almost a year into the papacy of John Paul II, a novel called The Vicar of Christ spent 13 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list. The work of a Princeton legal scholar, Walter F. Murphy, it featured an unlikely papal candidate named Declan Walsh—first a war hero, then a United States Supreme Court justice, and then (after an affair and his wife’s untimely death) a monk—who is summoned to the throne of Saint Peter by a deadlocked, desperate conclave.

Once elevated, Walsh takes the name Francesco—that is, Francis—and sets about using the office in extraordinary ways. He launches a global crusade against hunger, staffed by Catholic youth and funded by the sale of Vatican treasures. He intervenes repeatedly in world conflicts, at one point flying into Tel Aviv during an Arab bombing campaign. He lays plans to gradually reverse the Church’s teachings on contraception and clerical celibacy, and banishes conservative cardinals to monastic life when they plot against him. He flirts with the Arian heresy, which doubted Jesus’s full divinity, and he embraces Quaker-style religious pacifism, arguing that just-war theory is out of date in an age of nuclear arms and total war. (This last move eventually gets him assassinated, probably by one of the governments threatened by his quest for peace.)

Murphy’s book is mostly forgotten, but his hook, the idea of a progressive pope who sets out to bring sweeping change to Catholicism, has endured in the cultural imagination. The priest-novelist Andrew M. Greeley’s 1996 potboiler White Smoke, for instance, culminates in the election of a modernizing Spanish cardinal, whose conservative opponents are undone by the wily politicking of two Irish American prelates. Two years ago, Showtime shot a pilot for a series called The Vatican, in which Kyle Chandler (a k a Coach Taylor from Friday Night Lights) played a rising-star New York cardinal with progressive views—only to spike the show, perhaps feeling overtaken by events, 10 months after Pope Benedict XVI unexpectedly resigned.

The possibility of a revolutionary pope isn’t one that most Vatican-watchers have taken seriously, and not only because a college of cardinals with members appointed by John Paul and Benedict seemed unlikely to elevate a true wild card to the office. The reality is that popes are rarely the great protagonists of Catholic dramas. They are circumscribed by tradition and hemmed in by bureaucracy, and on vexing issues Rome tends to move last, after arguments have been thrashed out for generations.The arc of Jorge Bergoglio’s career follows a literary script: youthful success, defeat and exile, unexpected vindication and ascent.

Yet now we have a Pope Francesco in the flesh, and elements of Murphy’s vision have come to pass, or so it seems: the attention-grabbing breaks with papal protocol, the interventions in global politics, the reopening of moral issues that his predecessors had deemed settled, and the blend of public humility and skillful exploitation—including the cashiering of opponents—of the papal office and its powers.

The Church is not yet in the grip of a revolution. The limits, theological and practical, on papal power are still present, and the man who was Jorge Bergoglio has not done anything that explicitly puts them to the test. But his moves and choices (and the media coverage thereof) have generated a revolutionary atmosphere around Catholicism. For the moment, at least, there is a sense that a new springtime has arrived for the Church’s progressives. And among some conservative Catholics, there is a feeling of uncertainty absent since the often-chaotic aftermath of the Second Vatican Council, in the 1960s and ’70s.

That unease has coexisted with a tendency to deny that anything has really changed since the former cardinal and archbishop of Buenos Aires became pope. From the first unscripted shocker—his “Who am I to judge?” in response to a reporter’s question about gay priests—many conservative Catholics have argued that the press is seeing what it wants to see in the new pontiff. Taking his comments and gestures out of context, reporters are imposing a Declan Walsh frame on a reality in which continuity is still the order of the day.

The conservative observers are often right. Some of Francis’s gestures mirror moves his predecessors made to less fanfare or acclaim. Some of his forays into world affairs, like the opening to Cuba, build on Vatican diplomatic efforts begun before his time. Some of his leftward-tilting public statements—the critiques of global capitalism, the stress on environmental stewardship—are in step with the rhetoric of both John Paul and Benedict. Some of his headline-grabbing comments (on the compatibility of Catholic doctrine and evolutionary theory, say) get attention only because certain reporters have no real clue about what Catholicism teaches; others (like his alleged promise that pets go to heaven) because journalists will believe any story that fits the “maverick pope” narrative.

Yet the media are not deceived in thinking that Francis differs from his predecessors in substance as well as style. He may not be a liberal Catholic as the term is understood in an American or European context, but he has a different set of priorities than the previous two popes did. He reads the times differently, and elements of his agenda are clearly in tune with what many progressive Catholics (and progressives, period) in the West have long hoped for from the Church.

The exact details of that agenda can sometimes be difficult to discern. Phrases like master of ambiguity circulate among admirers and critics alike. But there are now a number of biographies of Francis/Bergoglio in English, and three of them, read together, give a provisional sense of where this pope is coming from. They also suggest why his pontificate, without being as deliberately revolutionary as the reigns of the liberal popes of fiction, might have dramatic consequences for the Church.

the arc of Bergoglio’s life and career follows a literary script: youthful success, defeat and exile, unexpected vindication and ascent. Each of his three biographers approaches the story in a different way. Elisabetta Piqué, a correspondent for the Argentine newspaper La Nación, has written an intensely personal work (Bergoglio baptized her two children); her Pope Francis: Life and Revolution draws richly on interviews with Argentinians touched by Bergoglio’s pastoral work. The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope, by the British Catholic journalist Austen Ivereigh, has the widest angle and the most depth, taking in Argentina’s distinctive history as well as the particular trajectory of its now most famous son. In Pope Francis: Untying the Knots, Paul Vallely, another British Catholic writer on religion, develops a distinctive interpretation of his subject.

But the basic narrative is there in all three treatments. The descendant of Italian immigrants to Argentina, devout from an early age and committed to the priesthood after a teenage epiphany, Bergoglio entered the Jesuit order in 1958, just four years before the Second Vatican Council opened in Rome. His training was long (Jesuits spend more than a decade “in formation”) and initially old-fashioned in its rigors; the order in Argentina devoted a great deal of its work to educating the national elite. But by the time he took his final vow and became a Jesuit in full, in 1973, the reforms of the Council and the turbulence that followed had dramatically changed his order, and divided it.

Many of Bergoglio’s fellow Jesuits believed they had a postconciliar mandate to make the pursuit of social justice the order’s organizing mission. In Latin America, the emerging Big Idea for what this meant was liberation theology, which promoted a synthesis between Gospel faith and Marxist-flavored political activism. Argentina’s provincial, the head of the country’s Jesuits, Ricardo O’Farrell, offered encouragement to these ideas. He backed priests who essentially wanted to live as political organizers among Argentina’s poor. He also supported a syllabus rewrite that was “heavy on sociology and Hegelian dialectics,” as Ivereigh describes it, and lighter on traditional Catholic elements.

But O’Farrell soon found himself dealing with a crisis: the number of men entering the order plummeted, and more-conservative Jesuits openly revolted. In the summer of 1973, he stepped aside, and at just 36, Bergoglio was elevated in his place. In many ways he made a success of things. The order’s numbers rebounded, and he won many admirers among the priests formed under his leadership. But he made enemies as well, most of them on the order’s theological and political left. Radical priests felt that their revolution had been betrayed, and a coterie of Jesuit academics fretted that Bergoglio’s program for Jesuits in training—which restored traditional elements abandoned by O’Farrell—was too reactionary, too pre–Vatican II. Ivereigh quotes one critic marveling that Bergoglio encouraged students to

go to the chapel at night and touch images! This was something the poor did, the people of the pueblo, something that the Society of Jesus worldwide just doesn’t do. I mean, touching images … What is that?

His leadership also coincided with the 1976 military coup and the “Dirty War,” during which left-wing Jesuits were particular targets for the junta’s thugs. Bergoglio was accused of complicity in the arrest and torture of two priests, a charge that Ivereigh and Piqué think is baseless; Vallely hedges, but seems to mostly concur. Indeed, all three biographers make clear that Bergoglio labored tirelessly behind the scenes to save people (not only priests) in danger of joining the ranks of the “disappeared.”

But he did not attack the Dirty War publicly, and the Jesuits under his leadership kept a low political profile as well. The entire Argentine Church was a compromised force during the junta’s rule, and Bergoglio probably couldn’t have played the kind of role that, say, the soon-to-be-beatified archbishop Oscar Romero played in El Salvador. But some in the order blamed his conservatism, as they saw it, for the absence of a clear Jesuit witness against the junta’s crimes.

Eventually these critics gained the upper hand. Not long after Bergoglio’s term ended in 1979, his policies were altered or reversed. Just over a decade later, following a period in which the Argentine Jesuits were divided into pro- and anti-Bergoglio camps, he was exiled from the leadership, sent to a Jesuit residence in the mountain town of Córdoba, and essentially left to rot.Francis seems to be trying to occupy a carefully balanced center between two equally dangerous poles.

That exile lasted almost two years, and ended when John Paul II’s choice for the archbishop of Buenos Aires, Antonio Quarracino, reached out and picked Bergoglio to serve as one of his auxiliaries in 1992. The rescue made everything that followed possible, but it also completed the former provincial’s break with his own order. Ivereigh notes that over the next 20 years, during which he took many trips to the Vatican, Bergoglio never so much as set foot in the Jesuit headquarters in Rome.

told this way—conservative Jesuit fights post–Vatican II radicalization, finds himself shunned by left-wing confreres, gets rescued by a John Paul appointee—the story of Francis’s rise and fall and rise sounds for all the world like The Making of a Conservative Pope. And indeed, a number of Catholic writers greeted Bergoglio’s election—some optimistically, some despairingly—with exactly that interpretation of his past’s likely impact on his papacy. But it seems fair to say that this interpretation was mistaken. So how, exactly, did the man who fought bitterly with left-wing Jesuits in the 1970s become the darling of progressive Catholics in the 2010s?

Piqué’s biography doesn’t even attempt to explain this seeming paradox. She blurs the tensions by treating Bergoglio’s 1970s-era critics dismissively—without really digging into the theological and political roots of the disputes—and then portraying Bergoglio the archbishop as basically progressive in his orientation. After succeeding Quarracino, she writes, he fought with “right-wing adversaries in the Roman Curia,” publicly showed annoyance at “obsessive strictness” on sexual ethics, and so on.

Vallely has a more creative argument. He suggests that Francis was essentially a pre–Vatican II traditionalist as provincial, and then, in exile, experienced a kind of theological and political conversion to his critics’ point of view. This is a fascinating idea, but perhaps too psychologically pat, and Vallely’s documentary evidence is interesting but thin. He makes much, for instance, of the older Bergoglio’s tendency to retrospectively criticize the too-hasty or overly authoritarian decision making of his earlier years. But much of this self-criticism seems more about style than about religious substance. And Vallely (like his sources) is rather too fond of false dichotomies: it’s supposed to be surprising, a sign of some radical interior change, that a theological conservative could be pastoral or want to spend time among the poor.

Bergoglio’s thinking clearly evolved. But the more plausible explanation for what’s going on emerges out of Ivereigh’s biography, which proposes a general continuity between the young provincial of the 1970s and the pope of today. To begin with, Ivereigh stresses that the younger Bergoglio was never a real traditionalist, never an enemy of Vatican II, never a foe of renewal or reform. Instead, he was trying to heed the warning of Yves Congar, the great mid-century Catholic theologian, that “true reform” must always be safeguarded from “false” alternatives. Bergoglio’s battles with radicals and liberals in his own order shouldn’t be interpreted as a case of the Catholic right resisting change. They should be understood as an attempt to steer a moderate course, to discern which changes are necessary and fruitful, and to reject the errors of both extremes.

This perspective undergirds Ivereigh’s larger argument that—the attention-grabbing “radical pope” language in his subtitle notwithstanding—there’s actually a greater consistency of views among Francis, Benedict, and John Paul than some press caricatures would suggest. Both of Francis’s predecessors were also men of Vatican II, liberals in the context of the Council’s debates who tried to rein in radical interpretations of its reforms and emphasize the continuity between the Church before and after. Like Francis, both were defenders of popular Catholic piety and mysticism—what Benedict, as Cardinal Ratzinger, called “the faith of the little ones”—against the condescension of certain progressive theologians. And both, like him, rejected fusions of Christianity and Marxism while offering at best a cheer and a half for capitalism.

Yet several crucial issues—some raised explicitly by Ivereigh, some implicit in all three biographies—set Francis’s background and worldview apart. They help explain why his pontificate looks much more friendly to progressive strands within Catholicism than anyone expected from the successor to the previous two popes.

First, Jorge Bergoglio had a very different experience of globalization than Karol Wojtyła (who would become Pope John Paul II) and Joseph Ratzinger did in Europe, one shaped by disappointments particular to his country. For most of his life, his native Argentina was an economic loser, persistently underperforming and corruption-wracked. During the 1980s, inequality and the poverty rate increased in tandem; in the late ’90s and early 2000s, while Bergoglio was archbishop, Argentina endured a downturn and a depression. Where his predecessors’ skepticism of capitalism and consumerism was mainly intellectual and theoretical, for Bergoglio the critique became something more visceral and personal.

Second, in the course of his political experience in Argentina, he encountered very different balances of power—between the left and the right, between Church and state, and within global Catholicism—than either of the previous two popes confronted. As much as Bergoglio clashed with Marxist-influenced Jesuits, the Marxists in Argentina weren’t running the state (as they were in John Paul’s Poland, and in the eastern bloc of Benedict’s native Germany). They were being murdered by it. Likewise, the fact that the Church in Argentina was compromised during the Dirty War had theological implications: it meant that for Bergoglio, more-intense forms of traditionalist Catholicism were associated with fascism in a very specific, immediate way. And coming from the Church’s geographical periphery himself, Bergoglio had reasons to sympathize with the progressive argument that John Paul had centralized too much power in the Vatican, and that local churches needed more freedom to evolve.

Third, while highly intellectual in his own distinctive way, Francis is clearly a less systematic thinker than either of his predecessors, and especially than the academic-minded Benedict. Whereas the previous pope defended popular piety against liberal critiques, Francis embodies a certain style of populist Catholicism—one that’s suspicious of overly academic faith in any form. He seems to have an affinity for the kind of Catholic culture in which Mass attendance might be spotty but the local saint’s processions are packed—a style of faith that’s fervent and supernaturalist but not particularly doctrinal. He also remains a Jesuit-formed leader, and Jesuits have traditionally combined missionary zeal with a certain conscious flexibility about doctrinal details that might impede their proselytizing work. This has often made them controversial among other missionary orders, as in the famous debate over the efforts of Matteo Ricci. A Jesuit in China during the late 16th and early 17th centuries, Ricci was attacked for incorporating Chinese concepts into his preaching and permitting converts to continue to venerate their ancestors. That Ricci is currently on the path to canonization, and his critics are mostly forgotten, says something important about the value of Jesuit envelope-pushing within the Church. But it also says something important that Catholicism has never before had a Jesuit pope.

Finally, Francis has a different base of support—and thus a different set of debts to pay, perhaps—within the Catholic hierarchy than the popes who preceded him had. He became a papal candidate at the 2005 conclave, and was elected pope eight years later, thanks to efforts made on his behalf by a small group of European cardinals, including Godfried Danneels of Belgium, Walter Kasper of Germany, England’s Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, and the late Carlo Maria Martini, himself a Jesuit and the former archbishop of Milan. In the John Paul era, all four men were among the most theologically liberal cardinals; Martini was regarded wistfully as a kind of might-have-been progressive pope.If ongoing adultery is forgivable, then why not other forms of loving, long-standing sexual commitment?

Both Ivereigh (a former adviser to Murphy-O’Connor) and Vallely leave little doubt as to this group’s importance. What is in doubt is how Bergoglio, who reportedly urged his supporters to vote for Ratzinger in 2005 rather than prolong the vote, felt about their efforts in either conclave, and how he feels about them now. Clearly the liberal cardinals fastened onto him as a candidate because they saw him as theologically closer to the center of the conclave and more doctrinally reliable than any of their group; clearly his support within the 2013 conclave extended well beyond just the liberal faction. At the same time, it is striking that the men who arguably did the most to make Bergoglio pontiff were among the cardinals most in opposition to the previous two popes.

these distinctive features of his background have helped define Francis’s agenda for the Church. The areas where he has the strongest mandate lie in governance: reforming the Vatican bureaucracy, purging corruption from the Curia, and reorienting the Church’s leadership toward the global South. These projects are natural extensions of his past experience, as are their rhetorical accompaniments—the public scoldings of worldly and careerist clergy, and the vision of a Church in which the “peripheries” (Africa, Latin America, Asia) bring renewal to the center.

So too with what looks like the broadest theme of his pontificate: his constant stress on economic issues, the Church’s social teachings, and the plight of the unemployed, the immigrant, the poor. The content here may not be different from previous papal statements on these subjects, but Francis returns to these issues much more often. His sharp, prophetic tone—the recurring references to the “throwaway culture” of modern capitalism, the condemnation of “an economy [that] kills”—seems intended to grab attention, to spotlight these issues, and to shatter the press’s image of a Church exclusively interested in sexual morality.

In this sense and others, Francis may indeed see his papacy as a kind of moderate corrective to the previous two. Rather than conceiving of himself primarily as a custodian of Catholic truth against relativizing trends, he seems to be trying to occupy a carefully balanced center between two equally dangerous poles. At one extreme are “the ‘do-gooders’ ” and “the so-called ‘progressives and liberals,’ ” as he put it in his closing remarks to last fall’s synod on the family. At the other extreme, to be equally condemned, are “the zealous” and “the scrupulous” and “the so-called—today—‘traditionalists.’ ”

To further that balancing act, his appointments, while hardly uniform, have filled the higher ranks of bishops and cardinals not only with more non-Europeans but with more men from the Church’s progressive wing. (The most prominent example is Blase J. Cupich, the new archbishop of Chicago, who was plucked from a minor diocese to run one of America’s most important sees.) Meanwhile Francis has shown explicit disfavor, not so much toward mainstream-conservative clerics, but toward those explicitly associated with traditionalism and the Latin Mass. Cardinal Raymond L. Burke, a Benedict appointee demoted to a mostly ceremonial position, is the famous case, but traditionalist-leaning bishops and religious orders have felt a chill wind at times as well.

Amid these moves, conservative Catholics have consoled themselves by noting that Francis is not at all like the left-wing Jesuits he feuded with in the 1970s. As he certainly is not: His economic vision offers a general critique of greed and indifference, rather than a specific social-democratic program, and there is nothing secularized about his style. He is devotional in his piety, supernatural and sometimes apocalyptic in his themes (complete with frequent mentions of the devil), and emphatic about the importance of the sacraments and saints. And he has stated clearly that he has neither the intention nor the capacity to alter the Church’s teachings on such issues as abortion and same-sex marriage.

All of this makes it imaginable that Francis could succeed in his balancing act. So long as doctrine doesn’t seem to be in question, a papal agenda focused on ending corruption in the Vatican and emphasizing a commitment to the global poor could successfully straddle some of the Church’s internal divides—not least because those divides aren’t always as binary as the language of “left and right” suggests. Many theological conservatives in the developing world are natural economic populists, and they’re perfectly happy with the way this pope talks about globalization and the free market. The allergy to some of his rhetoric is mostly confined to the American right, and even there it’s largely an elite-level phenomenon; Francis’s approval rating in the United States among conservative Catholics is about as high—that is, very high—as it is among Catholics who identify as moderate or liberal. And at least some in the latter groups mostly want the Church to de-emphasize the culture war rather than change specific teachings, so Francis’s rhetorical shifts may be enough to satisfy them.

But there are times when Francis himself seems to desire something more than just a change in emphasis. Even as he has officially reaffirmed Church teachings on sex and marriage, he has shown a persistent impatience—populist, Jesuit, or both—with the obstacles these teachings present to bringing some lapsed Catholics back to the Church. His frustration has emerged most clearly on the issue of divorce and remarriage: he has repeatedly shown what seems to be tacit support for the idea, long endorsed by Walter Kasper and other liberal cardinals, to allow Catholics in a second marriage to receive Communion even if their first marriage is still considered valid—that is, even if they are living in what the Church considers an adulterous relationship.

The argument, from Kasper and others, is that this would be strictly a pastoral change, a gesture of welcome and forgiveness rather than an endorsement of the second union, and so it wouldn’t alter the Church’s formal teaching on the indissolubility of marriage. The possible implication is that the post-sexual-revolution landscape is now as culturally foreign to the Church as China was in the age of Matteo Ricci, and that some cultural accommodation is needed before missionary work can thrive.

The problem for Francis is that Kasper’s argument is not particularly persuasive. Describing Communion for the remarried as merely a pastoral change ignores its inevitable doctrinal implications. If people who are living as adulterers can receive Communion, if the Church can recognize their state of life as nonideal but somehow tolerable, then either the Church’s sacramental theology or its definition of sin has been effectively rewritten. And the ramifications of such a change are potentially sweeping. If ongoing adultery is forgivable, then why not other forms of loving, long-standing sexual commitment? Not only same-sex couples but cohabiting straight couples and even polygamous families (a particular concern among African cardinals) could make a plausible case that they deserve the same pastoral exception, rendering the very idea of objective sexual sin anachronistic in one swift march.

This, then, is the place where Francis’s quest for balance could, through his own initiative, ultimately fall apart, bringing the very culture war he’s downplayed back to center stage. And it’s the place where his pontificate could become genuinely revolutionary. His other moves are changing the Church, but in gradual and reversible ways, leaving lines of conflict blurry and tensions bridgeable. But altering a teaching on sex and marriage that the Church has spent centuries insisting it simply cannot alter—a teaching on a question addressed directly (as, say, homosexuality is not) by Jesus himself—is a very different thing. It would suggest to the world, and to many Catholics, that Catholicism was formally capitulating to the sexual revolution. It would grant the Church’s progressives reasonable grounds for demanding room for further experiments. And it would make it impossible for many conservatives, lay and clerical, to avoid some kind of public opposition to the pope.

Such a development probably would not produce an immediate crisis or schism. But it would put the Church on the kind of trajectory that the Anglican Communion and other Protestant denominations have traced on these issues, and would make some eventual division much more likely. As pastoral experiments proliferated, geographical and cultural differences would matter more and more, and official Catholic teaching would effectively vary from country to country, diocese to diocese, in a more explicit way than it does today. (Already, the German bishops are telegraphing their intention to move ahead with a Kasper-like approach no matter what happens in Rome.) Open clashes within the hierarchy would become commonplace. Criticisms of the pope would become normal among the self-consciously orthodox, and the stakes would get higher with every subsequent papal election and intervention.From the beginning, sexual ethics have been closer to the heart of Christianity and Christian life than many theological progressives now assume.

None of this would be exactly new: Catholic Christianity has never been monolithic, and similar divisions have opened up across the past 2,000 years. But those examples are not particularly encouraging, given that many major theological disputes have led, as you would expect, to major schisms, from the early splits with the Copts and Monophysites and Nestorians, to the separation from the Eastern Church, to the late-medieval Great Schism, and of course to the Protestant Reformation.

Perhaps the debates of the sexual revolution will look less significant in hindsight than controversies over the nature of Christ’s divinity or Reformation-era arguments about papal authority and the sacraments. But from the beginning, sexual ethics have been closer to the heart of Christianity and Christian life than many theological progressives now assume. Not for nothing did Philip Rieff describe ideals like monogamy and chastity as part of “the consensual matrix of Christian culture.” It’s not really surprising that in Protestant churches, these debates have often threatened or produced schism.

Which raises an important question: Is this what liberal Catholics want?

the answer, in my experience, is no. Most liberal Catholics would simply dismiss the argument I’ve just made. Some don’t see any reason the Church can’t enact one or two changes on sexual ethics while holding the line on other fronts; they think conservatives are exaggerating the extent to which the Church’s view of human sexuality is, like Jesus’s robe, a seamless garment. Others sincerely think that a shift like the one Cardinal Kasper is proposing really does amount to merely a pastoral tweak (like the post–Vatican II disappearance of meatless Fridays), and conservatives will grumble and then quickly learn to live with it.

More broadly, there’s an assumption that a distinction between practice and doctrine is sustainable, or at least sustainable over the decades or centuries required for conservative opposition to diminish. Indeed, many liberal Catholics would say that’s how the Church always changes. A teaching or an idea (the prohibition against usury, say, or the theological speculation that unbaptized infants who die go to Limbo) gradually becomes vestigial: Catholics ignore it and churchmen stop talking about it, and then eventually the hierarchy comes up with some official-sounding explanation (one that starts, “As the Church has alwaystaught …”) for why it’s no longer really in force. The rest of Catholic teaching holds together just fine during this transition; there’s no danger of a Jenga effect, no thread-pulling that ends up unraveling the whole.

This view is widespread without always being made explicit. Sometimes it gets a full airing, though: in his new book, The Future of the Catholic Church With Pope Francis (in which the pontiff himself appears mostly in extremely selective quotation), the longtime papal critic Garry Wills offers a vision of the Catholic future in which the Church’s understanding of natural law, its opposition to abortion, and even the sacrament of confession are all destined for the same fate as the Latin Mass. (Wills already dispensed with the priesthood itself in Why Priests? A Failed Tradition, so disposing of a sacrament is relatively easy work.)

His view of Catholic history is ruthlessly consistent. The “development of dogma” really just means that doctrines come and go at history’s whim, and no idea or institution—save some kind of belief in Jesus’s divinity, presumably—is necessarily essential. Instead there’s just one damn thing after another, and if the Church teaches one thing in one age, reversing itself in the next is no big deal. Here his book boldly repurposes the views of G. K. Chesterton, who pointed out how impressively the Church shook itself free of the failing Roman empire, the dying medieval world, and eventually the ancien régime. To Chesterton, this proved the faith’s resilience and ultimately its capital‑T Truth. To Wills, it proves that the Church can just change the faith as it sees fit to suit a changing world.

Wills is an outlier among liberal Catholics, most of whom tend to be more modest and gradualist, and less inclined to take premises to their extreme. But most progressives share his basic conviction that conservative resistance on just about any doctrinal issue can eventually be overcome, and that Catholicism will always somehow remain Catholicism no matter how many once-essential-seeming things are altered or abandoned.

in the age of francis, this progressive faith seems to rest on two assumptions. The first is that the changes conservatives are resisting are, in fact, necessary for missionary work in the post-sexual-revolution age, and that once they’re accomplished, the subsequent renewal will justify the means. The second is that because conservative Catholics are so invested in papal authority, a revolution from above can carry all before it: the conservatives’ very theology makes it impossible for them to effectively resist a liberalizing pope, and anyway they have no other place to go.

But the first assumption now has a certain amount of evidence against it, given how many of the Protestant churches that have already liberalized on sexual issues—again, often dividing in the process—are presently aging toward a comfortable extinction. (As is, of course, the Catholic Church in Germany, ground zero for Walter Kasper’s vision of reform.)

Contemporary progressive Catholicism has been stamped by the experience of the Second Vatican Council, when what was then a vital American Catholicism could be invoked as evidence that the Church should make its peace with liberalism as it was understood in 1960. But liberalism in 2015 means something rather different, and attempts to accommodate Christianity to its tenets have rarely produced the expected flourishing and growth. Instead, liberal Christianity’s recent victories have very often been associated with the decline or dissolution of its institutional expressions.

Which leaves the second assumption for liberals to fall back on—a kind of progressive ultramontanism, which assumes that papal power can remake the Church without dividing it, and that when Rome speaks, even disappointed conservatives will ultimately concede that the case is closed.

It is a brave theory. We will soon find out whether Papa Francesco intends to put it to the test.

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in 1979, almost a year into the papacy of John Paul II, a novel called The Vicar of Christ spent 13 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list. The work of a Princeton legal scholar, Walter F. Murphy, it featured an unlikely papal candidate named Declan Walsh—first a war hero, then a United States Supreme Court justice, and then (after an affair and his wife’s untimely death) a monk—who is summoned to the throne of Saint Peter by a deadlocked, desperate conclave.

Once elevated, Walsh takes the name Francesco—that is, Francis—and sets about using the office in extraordinary ways. He launches a global crusade against hunger, staffed by Catholic youth and funded by the sale of Vatican treasures. He intervenes repeatedly in world conflicts, at one point flying into Tel Aviv during an Arab bombing campaign. He lays plans to gradually reverse the Church’s teachings on contraception and clerical celibacy, and banishes conservative cardinals to monastic life when they plot against him. He flirts with the Arian heresy, which doubted Jesus’s full divinity, and he embraces Quaker-style religious pacifism, arguing that just-war theory is out of date in an age of nuclear arms and total war. (This last move eventually gets him assassinated, probably by one of the governments threatened by his quest for peace.)

Murphy’s book is mostly forgotten, but his hook, the idea of a progressive pope who sets out to bring sweeping change to Catholicism, has endured in the cultural imagination. The priest-novelist Andrew M. Greeley’s 1996 potboiler White Smoke, for instance, culminates in the election of a modernizing Spanish cardinal, whose conservative opponents are undone by the wily politicking of two Irish American prelates. Two years ago, Showtime shot a pilot for a series called The Vatican, in which Kyle Chandler (a k a Coach Taylor from Friday Night Lights) played a rising-star New York cardinal with progressive views—only to spike the show, perhaps feeling overtaken by events, 10 months after Pope Benedict XVI unexpectedly resigned.

The possibility of a revolutionary pope isn’t one that most Vatican-watchers have taken seriously, and not only because a college of cardinals with members appointed by John Paul and Benedict seemed unlikely to elevate a true wild card to the office. The reality is that popes are rarely the great protagonists of Catholic dramas. They are circumscribed by tradition and hemmed in by bureaucracy, and on vexing issues Rome tends to move last, after arguments have been thrashed out for generations.The arc of Jorge Bergoglio’s career follows a literary script: youthful success, defeat and exile, unexpected vindication and ascent.

Yet now we have a Pope Francesco in the flesh, and elements of Murphy’s vision have come to pass, or so it seems: the attention-grabbing breaks with papal protocol, the interventions in global politics, the reopening of moral issues that his predecessors had deemed settled, and the blend of public humility and skillful exploitation—including the cashiering of opponents—of the papal office and its powers.

The Church is not yet in the grip of a revolution. The limits, theological and practical, on papal power are still present, and the man who was Jorge Bergoglio has not done anything that explicitly puts them to the test. But his moves and choices (and the media coverage thereof) have generated a revolutionary atmosphere around Catholicism. For the moment, at least, there is a sense that a new springtime has arrived for the Church’s progressives. And among some conservative Catholics, there is a feeling of uncertainty absent since the often-chaotic aftermath of the Second Vatican Council, in the 1960s and ’70s.

That unease has coexisted with a tendency to deny that anything has really changed since the former cardinal and archbishop of Buenos Aires became pope. From the first unscripted shocker—his “Who am I to judge?” in response to a reporter’s question about gay priests—many conservative Catholics have argued that the press is seeing what it wants to see in the new pontiff. Taking his comments and gestures out of context, reporters are imposing a Declan Walsh frame on a reality in which continuity is still the order of the day.

The conservative observers are often right. Some of Francis’s gestures mirror moves his predecessors made to less fanfare or acclaim. Some of his forays into world affairs, like the opening to Cuba, build on Vatican diplomatic efforts begun before his time. Some of his leftward-tilting public statements—the critiques of global capitalism, the stress on environmental stewardship—are in step with the rhetoric of both John Paul and Benedict. Some of his headline-grabbing comments (on the compatibility of Catholic doctrine and evolutionary theory, say) get attention only because certain reporters have no real clue about what Catholicism teaches; others (like his alleged promise that pets go to heaven) because journalists will believe any story that fits the “maverick pope” narrative.

Yet the media are not deceived in thinking that Francis differs from his predecessors in substance as well as style. He may not be a liberal Catholic as the term is understood in an American or European context, but he has a different set of priorities than the previous two popes did. He reads the times differently, and elements of his agenda are clearly in tune with what many progressive Catholics (and progressives, period) in the West have long hoped for from the Church.

The exact details of that agenda can sometimes be difficult to discern. Phrases like master of ambiguity circulate among admirers and critics alike. But there are now a number of biographies of Francis/Bergoglio in English, and three of them, read together, give a provisional sense of where this pope is coming from. They also suggest why his pontificate, without being as deliberately revolutionary as the reigns of the liberal popes of fiction, might have dramatic consequences for the Church.

the arc of Bergoglio’s life and career follows a literary script: youthful success, defeat and exile, unexpected vindication and ascent. Each of his three biographers approaches the story in a different way. Elisabetta Piqué, a correspondent for the Argentine newspaper La Nación, has written an intensely personal work (Bergoglio baptized her two children); her Pope Francis: Life and Revolution draws richly on interviews with Argentinians touched by Bergoglio’s pastoral work. The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope, by the British Catholic journalist Austen Ivereigh, has the widest angle and the most depth, taking in Argentina’s distinctive history as well as the particular trajectory of its now most famous son. In Pope Francis: Untying the Knots, Paul Vallely, another British Catholic writer on religion, develops a distinctive interpretation of his subject.

But the basic narrative is there in all three treatments. The descendant of Italian immigrants to Argentina, devout from an early age and committed to the priesthood after a teenage epiphany, Bergoglio entered the Jesuit order in 1958, just four years before the Second Vatican Council opened in Rome. His training was long (Jesuits spend more than a decade “in formation”) and initially old-fashioned in its rigors; the order in Argentina devoted a great deal of its work to educating the national elite. But by the time he took his final vow and became a Jesuit in full, in 1973, the reforms of the Council and the turbulence that followed had dramatically changed his order, and divided it.

Many of Bergoglio’s fellow Jesuits believed they had a postconciliar mandate to make the pursuit of social justice the order’s organizing mission. In Latin America, the emerging Big Idea for what this meant was liberation theology, which promoted a synthesis between Gospel faith and Marxist-flavored political activism. Argentina’s provincial, the head of the country’s Jesuits, Ricardo O’Farrell, offered encouragement to these ideas. He backed priests who essentially wanted to live as political organizers among Argentina’s poor. He also supported a syllabus rewrite that was “heavy on sociology and Hegelian dialectics,” as Ivereigh describes it, and lighter on traditional Catholic elements.

But O’Farrell soon found himself dealing with a crisis: the number of men entering the order plummeted, and more-conservative Jesuits openly revolted. In the summer of 1973, he stepped aside, and at just 36, Bergoglio was elevated in his place. In many ways he made a success of things. The order’s numbers rebounded, and he won many admirers among the priests formed under his leadership. But he made enemies as well, most of them on the order’s theological and political left. Radical priests felt that their revolution had been betrayed, and a coterie of Jesuit academics fretted that Bergoglio’s program for Jesuits in training—which restored traditional elements abandoned by O’Farrell—was too reactionary, too pre–Vatican II. Ivereigh quotes one critic marveling that Bergoglio encouraged students to

go to the chapel at night and touch images! This was something the poor did, the people of the pueblo, something that the Society of Jesus worldwide just doesn’t do. I mean, touching images … What is that?

His leadership also coincided with the 1976 military coup and the “Dirty War,” during which left-wing Jesuits were particular targets for the junta’s thugs. Bergoglio was accused of complicity in the arrest and torture of two priests, a charge that Ivereigh and Piqué think is baseless; Vallely hedges, but seems to mostly concur. Indeed, all three biographers make clear that Bergoglio labored tirelessly behind the scenes to save people (not only priests) in danger of joining the ranks of the “disappeared.”

But he did not attack the Dirty War publicly, and the Jesuits under his leadership kept a low political profile as well. The entire Argentine Church was a compromised force during the junta’s rule, and Bergoglio probably couldn’t have played the kind of role that, say, the soon-to-be-beatified archbishop Oscar Romero played in El Salvador. But some in the order blamed his conservatism, as they saw it, for the absence of a clear Jesuit witness against the junta’s crimes.

Eventually these critics gained the upper hand. Not long after Bergoglio’s term ended in 1979, his policies were altered or reversed. Just over a decade later, following a period in which the Argentine Jesuits were divided into pro- and anti-Bergoglio camps, he was exiled from the leadership, sent to a Jesuit residence in the mountain town of Córdoba, and essentially left to rot.Francis seems to be trying to occupy a carefully balanced center between two equally dangerous poles.

That exile lasted almost two years, and ended when John Paul II’s choice for the archbishop of Buenos Aires, Antonio Quarracino, reached out and picked Bergoglio to serve as one of his auxiliaries in 1992. The rescue made everything that followed possible, but it also completed the former provincial’s break with his own order. Ivereigh notes that over the next 20 years, during which he took many trips to the Vatican, Bergoglio never so much as set foot in the Jesuit headquarters in Rome.

told this way—conservative Jesuit fights post–Vatican II radicalization, finds himself shunned by left-wing confreres, gets rescued by a John Paul appointee—the story of Francis’s rise and fall and rise sounds for all the world like The Making of a Conservative Pope. And indeed, a number of Catholic writers greeted Bergoglio’s election—some optimistically, some despairingly—with exactly that interpretation of his past’s likely impact on his papacy. But it seems fair to say that this interpretation was mistaken. So how, exactly, did the man who fought bitterly with left-wing Jesuits in the 1970s become the darling of progressive Catholics in the 2010s?

Piqué’s biography doesn’t even attempt to explain this seeming paradox. She blurs the tensions by treating Bergoglio’s 1970s-era critics dismissively—without really digging into the theological and political roots of the disputes—and then portraying Bergoglio the archbishop as basically progressive in his orientation. After succeeding Quarracino, she writes, he fought with “right-wing adversaries in the Roman Curia,” publicly showed annoyance at “obsessive strictness” on sexual ethics, and so on.

Vallely has a more creative argument. He suggests that Francis was essentially a pre–Vatican II traditionalist as provincial, and then, in exile, experienced a kind of theological and political conversion to his critics’ point of view. This is a fascinating idea, but perhaps too psychologically pat, and Vallely’s documentary evidence is interesting but thin. He makes much, for instance, of the older Bergoglio’s tendency to retrospectively criticize the too-hasty or overly authoritarian decision making of his earlier years. But much of this self-criticism seems more about style than about religious substance. And Vallely (like his sources) is rather too fond of false dichotomies: it’s supposed to be surprising, a sign of some radical interior change, that a theological conservative could be pastoral or want to spend time among the poor.

Bergoglio’s thinking clearly evolved. But the more plausible explanation for what’s going on emerges out of Ivereigh’s biography, which proposes a general continuity between the young provincial of the 1970s and the pope of today. To begin with, Ivereigh stresses that the younger Bergoglio was never a real traditionalist, never an enemy of Vatican II, never a foe of renewal or reform. Instead, he was trying to heed the warning of Yves Congar, the great mid-century Catholic theologian, that “true reform” must always be safeguarded from “false” alternatives. Bergoglio’s battles with radicals and liberals in his own order shouldn’t be interpreted as a case of the Catholic right resisting change. They should be understood as an attempt to steer a moderate course, to discern which changes are necessary and fruitful, and to reject the errors of both extremes.

This perspective undergirds Ivereigh’s larger argument that—the attention-grabbing “radical pope” language in his subtitle notwithstanding—there’s actually a greater consistency of views among Francis, Benedict, and John Paul than some press caricatures would suggest. Both of Francis’s predecessors were also men of Vatican II, liberals in the context of the Council’s debates who tried to rein in radical interpretations of its reforms and emphasize the continuity between the Church before and after. Like Francis, both were defenders of popular Catholic piety and mysticism—what Benedict, as Cardinal Ratzinger, called “the faith of the little ones”—against the condescension of certain progressive theologians. And both, like him, rejected fusions of Christianity and Marxism while offering at best a cheer and a half for capitalism.

Yet several crucial issues—some raised explicitly by Ivereigh, some implicit in all three biographies—set Francis’s background and worldview apart. They help explain why his pontificate looks much more friendly to progressive strands within Catholicism than anyone expected from the successor to the previous two popes.

First, Jorge Bergoglio had a very different experience of globalization than Karol Wojtyła (who would become Pope John Paul II) and Joseph Ratzinger did in Europe, one shaped by disappointments particular to his country. For most of his life, his native Argentina was an economic loser, persistently underperforming and corruption-wracked. During the 1980s, inequality and the poverty rate increased in tandem; in the late ’90s and early 2000s, while Bergoglio was archbishop, Argentina endured a downturn and a depression. Where his predecessors’ skepticism of capitalism and consumerism was mainly intellectual and theoretical, for Bergoglio the critique became something more visceral and personal.

Second, in the course of his political experience in Argentina, he encountered very different balances of power—between the left and the right, between Church and state, and within global Catholicism—than either of the previous two popes confronted. As much as Bergoglio clashed with Marxist-influenced Jesuits, the Marxists in Argentina weren’t running the state (as they were in John Paul’s Poland, and in the eastern bloc of Benedict’s native Germany). They were being murdered by it. Likewise, the fact that the Church in Argentina was compromised during the Dirty War had theological implications: it meant that for Bergoglio, more-intense forms of traditionalist Catholicism were associated with fascism in a very specific, immediate way. And coming from the Church’s geographical periphery himself, Bergoglio had reasons to sympathize with the progressive argument that John Paul had centralized too much power in the Vatican, and that local churches needed more freedom to evolve.

Third, while highly intellectual in his own distinctive way, Francis is clearly a less systematic thinker than either of his predecessors, and especially than the academic-minded Benedict. Whereas the previous pope defended popular piety against liberal critiques, Francis embodies a certain style of populist Catholicism—one that’s suspicious of overly academic faith in any form. He seems to have an affinity for the kind of Catholic culture in which Mass attendance might be spotty but the local saint’s processions are packed—a style of faith that’s fervent and supernaturalist but not particularly doctrinal. He also remains a Jesuit-formed leader, and Jesuits have traditionally combined missionary zeal with a certain conscious flexibility about doctrinal details that might impede their proselytizing work. This has often made them controversial among other missionary orders, as in the famous debate over the efforts of Matteo Ricci. A Jesuit in China during the late 16th and early 17th centuries, Ricci was attacked for incorporating Chinese concepts into his preaching and permitting converts to continue to venerate their ancestors. That Ricci is currently on the path to canonization, and his critics are mostly forgotten, says something important about the value of Jesuit envelope-pushing within the Church. But it also says something important that Catholicism has never before had a Jesuit pope.

Finally, Francis has a different base of support—and thus a different set of debts to pay, perhaps—within the Catholic hierarchy than the popes who preceded him had. He became a papal candidate at the 2005 conclave, and was elected pope eight years later, thanks to efforts made on his behalf by a small group of European cardinals, including Godfried Danneels of Belgium, Walter Kasper of Germany, England’s Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, and the late Carlo Maria Martini, himself a Jesuit and the former archbishop of Milan. In the John Paul era, all four men were among the most theologically liberal cardinals; Martini was regarded wistfully as a kind of might-have-been progressive pope.If ongoing adultery is forgivable, then why not other forms of loving, long-standing sexual commitment?

Both Ivereigh (a former adviser to Murphy-O’Connor) and Vallely leave little doubt as to this group’s importance. What is in doubt is how Bergoglio, who reportedly urged his supporters to vote for Ratzinger in 2005 rather than prolong the vote, felt about their efforts in either conclave, and how he feels about them now. Clearly the liberal cardinals fastened onto him as a candidate because they saw him as theologically closer to the center of the conclave and more doctrinally reliable than any of their group; clearly his support within the 2013 conclave extended well beyond just the liberal faction. At the same time, it is striking that the men who arguably did the most to make Bergoglio pontiff were among the cardinals most in opposition to the previous two popes.

these distinctive features of his background have helped define Francis’s agenda for the Church. The areas where he has the strongest mandate lie in governance: reforming the Vatican bureaucracy, purging corruption from the Curia, and reorienting the Church’s leadership toward the global South. These projects are natural extensions of his past experience, as are their rhetorical accompaniments—the public scoldings of worldly and careerist clergy, and the vision of a Church in which the “peripheries” (Africa, Latin America, Asia) bring renewal to the center.

So too with what looks like the broadest theme of his pontificate: his constant stress on economic issues, the Church’s social teachings, and the plight of the unemployed, the immigrant, the poor. The content here may not be different from previous papal statements on these subjects, but Francis returns to these issues much more often. His sharp, prophetic tone—the recurring references to the “throwaway culture” of modern capitalism, the condemnation of “an economy [that] kills”—seems intended to grab attention, to spotlight these issues, and to shatter the press’s image of a Church exclusively interested in sexual morality.

In this sense and others, Francis may indeed see his papacy as a kind of moderate corrective to the previous two. Rather than conceiving of himself primarily as a custodian of Catholic truth against relativizing trends, he seems to be trying to occupy a carefully balanced center between two equally dangerous poles. At one extreme are “the ‘do-gooders’ ” and “the so-called ‘progressives and liberals,’ ” as he put it in his closing remarks to last fall’s synod on the family. At the other extreme, to be equally condemned, are “the zealous” and “the scrupulous” and “the so-called—today—‘traditionalists.’ ”

To further that balancing act, his appointments, while hardly uniform, have filled the higher ranks of bishops and cardinals not only with more non-Europeans but with more men from the Church’s progressive wing. (The most prominent example is Blase J. Cupich, the new archbishop of Chicago, who was plucked from a minor diocese to run one of America’s most important sees.) Meanwhile Francis has shown explicit disfavor, not so much toward mainstream-conservative clerics, but toward those explicitly associated with traditionalism and the Latin Mass. Cardinal Raymond L. Burke, a Benedict appointee demoted to a mostly ceremonial position, is the famous case, but traditionalist-leaning bishops and religious orders have felt a chill wind at times as well.

Amid these moves, conservative Catholics have consoled themselves by noting that Francis is not at all like the left-wing Jesuits he feuded with in the 1970s. As he certainly is not: His economic vision offers a general critique of greed and indifference, rather than a specific social-democratic program, and there is nothing secularized about his style. He is devotional in his piety, supernatural and sometimes apocalyptic in his themes (complete with frequent mentions of the devil), and emphatic about the importance of the sacraments and saints. And he has stated clearly that he has neither the intention nor the capacity to alter the Church’s teachings on such issues as abortion and same-sex marriage.

All of this makes it imaginable that Francis could succeed in his balancing act. So long as doctrine doesn’t seem to be in question, a papal agenda focused on ending corruption in the Vatican and emphasizing a commitment to the global poor could successfully straddle some of the Church’s internal divides—not least because those divides aren’t always as binary as the language of “left and right” suggests. Many theological conservatives in the developing world are natural economic populists, and they’re perfectly happy with the way this pope talks about globalization and the free market. The allergy to some of his rhetoric is mostly confined to the American right, and even there it’s largely an elite-level phenomenon; Francis’s approval rating in the United States among conservative Catholics is about as high—that is, very high—as it is among Catholics who identify as moderate or liberal. And at least some in the latter groups mostly want the Church to de-emphasize the culture war rather than change specific teachings, so Francis’s rhetorical shifts may be enough to satisfy them.

But there are times when Francis himself seems to desire something more than just a change in emphasis. Even as he has officially reaffirmed Church teachings on sex and marriage, he has shown a persistent impatience—populist, Jesuit, or both—with the obstacles these teachings present to bringing some lapsed Catholics back to the Church. His frustration has emerged most clearly on the issue of divorce and remarriage: he has repeatedly shown what seems to be tacit support for the idea, long endorsed by Walter Kasper and other liberal cardinals, to allow Catholics in a second marriage to receive Communion even if their first marriage is still considered valid—that is, even if they are living in what the Church considers an adulterous relationship.

The argument, from Kasper and others, is that this would be strictly a pastoral change, a gesture of welcome and forgiveness rather than an endorsement of the second union, and so it wouldn’t alter the Church’s formal teaching on the indissolubility of marriage. The possible implication is that the post-sexual-revolution landscape is now as culturally foreign to the Church as China was in the age of Matteo Ricci, and that some cultural accommodation is needed before missionary work can thrive.

The problem for Francis is that Kasper’s argument is not particularly persuasive. Describing Communion for the remarried as merely a pastoral change ignores its inevitable doctrinal implications. If people who are living as adulterers can receive Communion, if the Church can recognize their state of life as nonideal but somehow tolerable, then either the Church’s sacramental theology or its definition of sin has been effectively rewritten. And the ramifications of such a change are potentially sweeping. If ongoing adultery is forgivable, then why not other forms of loving, long-standing sexual commitment? Not only same-sex couples but cohabiting straight couples and even polygamous families (a particular concern among African cardinals) could make a plausible case that they deserve the same pastoral exception, rendering the very idea of objective sexual sin anachronistic in one swift march.

This, then, is the place where Francis’s quest for balance could, through his own initiative, ultimately fall apart, bringing the very culture war he’s downplayed back to center stage. And it’s the place where his pontificate could become genuinely revolutionary. His other moves are changing the Church, but in gradual and reversible ways, leaving lines of conflict blurry and tensions bridgeable. But altering a teaching on sex and marriage that the Church has spent centuries insisting it simply cannot alter—a teaching on a question addressed directly (as, say, homosexuality is not) by Jesus himself—is a very different thing. It would suggest to the world, and to many Catholics, that Catholicism was formally capitulating to the sexual revolution. It would grant the Church’s progressives reasonable grounds for demanding room for further experiments. And it would make it impossible for many conservatives, lay and clerical, to avoid some kind of public opposition to the pope.

Such a development probably would not produce an immediate crisis or schism. But it would put the Church on the kind of trajectory that the Anglican Communion and other Protestant denominations have traced on these issues, and would make some eventual division much more likely. As pastoral experiments proliferated, geographical and cultural differences would matter more and more, and official Catholic teaching would effectively vary from country to country, diocese to diocese, in a more explicit way than it does today. (Already, the German bishops are telegraphing their intention to move ahead with a Kasper-like approach no matter what happens in Rome.) Open clashes within the hierarchy would become commonplace. Criticisms of the pope would become normal among the self-consciously orthodox, and the stakes would get higher with every subsequent papal election and intervention.From the beginning, sexual ethics have been closer to the heart of Christianity and Christian life than many theological progressives now assume.

None of this would be exactly new: Catholic Christianity has never been monolithic, and similar divisions have opened up across the past 2,000 years. But those examples are not particularly encouraging, given that many major theological disputes have led, as you would expect, to major schisms, from the early splits with the Copts and Monophysites and Nestorians, to the separation from the Eastern Church, to the late-medieval Great Schism, and of course to the Protestant Reformation.

Perhaps the debates of the sexual revolution will look less significant in hindsight than controversies over the nature of Christ’s divinity or Reformation-era arguments about papal authority and the sacraments. But from the beginning, sexual ethics have been closer to the heart of Christianity and Christian life than many theological progressives now assume. Not for nothing did Philip Rieff describe ideals like monogamy and chastity as part of “the consensual matrix of Christian culture.” It’s not really surprising that in Protestant churches, these debates have often threatened or produced schism.

Which raises an important question: Is this what liberal Catholics want?

the answer, in my experience, is no. Most liberal Catholics would simply dismiss the argument I’ve just made. Some don’t see any reason the Church can’t enact one or two changes on sexual ethics while holding the line on other fronts; they think conservatives are exaggerating the extent to which the Church’s view of human sexuality is, like Jesus’s robe, a seamless garment. Others sincerely think that a shift like the one Cardinal Kasper is proposing really does amount to merely a pastoral tweak (like the post–Vatican II disappearance of meatless Fridays), and conservatives will grumble and then quickly learn to live with it.

More broadly, there’s an assumption that a distinction between practice and doctrine is sustainable, or at least sustainable over the decades or centuries required for conservative opposition to diminish. Indeed, many liberal Catholics would say that’s how the Church always changes. A teaching or an idea (the prohibition against usury, say, or the theological speculation that unbaptized infants who die go to Limbo) gradually becomes vestigial: Catholics ignore it and churchmen stop talking about it, and then eventually the hierarchy comes up with some official-sounding explanation (one that starts, “As the Church has alwaystaught …”) for why it’s no longer really in force. The rest of Catholic teaching holds together just fine during this transition; there’s no danger of a Jenga effect, no thread-pulling that ends up unraveling the whole.

This view is widespread without always being made explicit. Sometimes it gets a full airing, though: in his new book, The Future of the Catholic Church With Pope Francis (in which the pontiff himself appears mostly in extremely selective quotation), the longtime papal critic Garry Wills offers a vision of the Catholic future in which the Church’s understanding of natural law, its opposition to abortion, and even the sacrament of confession are all destined for the same fate as the Latin Mass. (Wills already dispensed with the priesthood itself in Why Priests? A Failed Tradition, so disposing of a sacrament is relatively easy work.)

His view of Catholic history is ruthlessly consistent. The “development of dogma” really just means that doctrines come and go at history’s whim, and no idea or institution—save some kind of belief in Jesus’s divinity, presumably—is necessarily essential. Instead there’s just one damn thing after another, and if the Church teaches one thing in one age, reversing itself in the next is no big deal. Here his book boldly repurposes the views of G. K. Chesterton, who pointed out how impressively the Church shook itself free of the failing Roman empire, the dying medieval world, and eventually the ancien régime. To Chesterton, this proved the faith’s resilience and ultimately its capital‑T Truth. To Wills, it proves that the Church can just change the faith as it sees fit to suit a changing world.

Wills is an outlier among liberal Catholics, most of whom tend to be more modest and gradualist, and less inclined to take premises to their extreme. But most progressives share his basic conviction that conservative resistance on just about any doctrinal issue can eventually be overcome, and that Catholicism will always somehow remain Catholicism no matter how many once-essential-seeming things are altered or abandoned.

in the age of francis, this progressive faith seems to rest on two assumptions. The first is that the changes conservatives are resisting are, in fact, necessary for missionary work in the post-sexual-revolution age, and that once they’re accomplished, the subsequent renewal will justify the means. The second is that because conservative Catholics are so invested in papal authority, a revolution from above can carry all before it: the conservatives’ very theology makes it impossible for them to effectively resist a liberalizing pope, and anyway they have no other place to go.

But the first assumption now has a certain amount of evidence against it, given how many of the Protestant churches that have already liberalized on sexual issues—again, often dividing in the process—are presently aging toward a comfortable extinction. (As is, of course, the Catholic Church in Germany, ground zero for Walter Kasper’s vision of reform.)

Contemporary progressive Catholicism has been stamped by the experience of the Second Vatican Council, when what was then a vital American Catholicism could be invoked as evidence that the Church should make its peace with liberalism as it was understood in 1960. But liberalism in 2015 means something rather different, and attempts to accommodate Christianity to its tenets have rarely produced the expected flourishing and growth. Instead, liberal Christianity’s recent victories have very often been associated with the decline or dissolution of its institutional expressions.

Which leaves the second assumption for liberals to fall back on—a kind of progressive ultramontanism, which assumes that papal power can remake the Church without dividing it, and that when Rome speaks, even disappointed conservatives will ultimately concede that the case is closed.

It is a brave theory. We will soon find out whether Papa Francesco intends to put it to the test.

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Pope Francis makes an infallible jokePosted: 30 Sep 2018 07:51 AM PDT Theologians, canon lawyers, professors, journalists, Jesuits, and Catholics worldwide are currently trying to get to grips with Pope Francis’s latest claim that he is the Devil. Should this be interpreted as an infallible statement? Or at least part of the Catholic Magisterium? Well, if not, does it have the “ex aeroplane” authority of an in-flight declaration? 

Or maybe it’s just a load of Scalfaris, and never happened at all? You see the problem. If some of the Pope’s statements are deemed to be jokes, how are we to tell which they are? 

Is Amoris Laetitiajust one big joke? Or is it just the footnotes? Will it be necessary for Cardinal Burke to issue another Dubium along the lines of: “Are you really the Devil, Holy Father?” Was the appointment of Cardinal Cupich (“the world’s nastiest cardinal”) a joke that was accidentally taken seriously? 

“From now on, if I’m wearing the balloon hat, I’m joking, otherwise I’m being Magisterial.”Fortunately, Catholics are asked to respect the views of the Pope, but do not need to agree with them unless they bear the authority of the Magisterium. Unlike many of the Pope’s utterances, the “I am the Devil” claim does not contradict the teachings of previous Popes: on the other hand, Catholics are still not obliged to believe this new doctrine. 

So, please let us have no more queues of people at Confession saying “Father, the Pope says he’s the Devil, but I cannot believe this teaching. I think he’s just a very naughty pope.” A red nose indicates a Magisterial statement where the “infallibility” button has not been pushed.We are looking forward to hearing jokes from Pope Francis along the lines of “A cardinal, a bishop and a seminarian went into a bar.” If the papal balloon-hat is not being worn, this means that the event actually happened (and Archbishop Viganò has all the details).


Recently many educated Catholic observers, including bishops and priests, have decried the confusion in doctrinal statements about faith or morals made from the Apostolic See at Rome and by the putative Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis.  Some devout, faithful and thoughtful Catholics have even suggested that he be set aside as a heretic, a dangerous purveyor of error, as recently mentioned in a number of reports.
 Claiming heresy on the part of a man who is a supposed Pope, charging material error in statements about faith or morals by a putative Roman Pontiff, suggests and presents an intervening prior question about his authenticity in that August office of Successor of Peter as Chief of The Apostles, i.e., was this man the subject of a valid election by an authentic Conclave of The Holy Roman Church?  This is so because each Successor of Saint Peter enjoys the Gift of Infallibility.  So, before one even begins to talk about excommunicating such a prelate, one must logically examine whether this person exhibits the uniformly good and safe fruit of Infallibility.  If he seems repeatedly to engage in material error, that first raises the question of the validity of his election because one expects an authentically-elected Roman Pontiff miraculously and uniformly to be entirely incapable of stating error in matters of faith or morals.  So to what do we look to discern the invalidity of such an election?  His Holiness, Pope John Paul II, within His massive legacy to the Church and to the World, left us with the answer to this question.  The Catholic faithful must look back for an answer to a point from where we have come—to what occurred in and around the Sistine Chapel in March 2013 and how the fruits of those events have generated such widespread concern among those people of magisterial orthodoxy about confusing and, or, erroneous doctrinal statements which emanate from The Holy See.   His Apostolic Constitution (Universi Dominici Gregis) which governed the supposed Conclave in March 2013 contains quite clear and specific language about the invalidating effect of departures from its norms.  For example, Paragraph 76 states:  “Should the election take place in a way other than that prescribed in the present Constitution, or should the conditions laid down here not be observed, the election is for this very reason null and void, without any need for a declaration on the matter; consequently, it confers no right on the one elected.”  From this, many believe that there is probable cause to believe that Monsignor Jorge Mario Bergoglio was never validly elected as the Bishop of Rome and Successor of Saint Peter—he never rightly took over the office of Supreme Pontiff of the Holy Roman Catholic Church and therefore he does not enjoy the charism of Infallibility.  If this is true, then the situation is dire because supposed papal acts may not be valid or such acts are clearly invalid, including supposed appointments to the college of electors itself. Only valid cardinals can rectify our critical situation through privately (secretly) recognizing the reality of an ongoing interregnum and preparing for an opportunity to put the process aright by obedience to the legislation of His Holiness, Pope John Paul II, in that Apostolic Constitution, Universi Dominici Gregis.  While thousands of the Catholic faithful do understand that only the cardinals who participated in the events of March 2013 within the Sistine Chapel have all the information necessary to evaluate the issue of election validity, there was public evidence sufficient for astute lay faithful to surmise with moral certainty that the March 2013 action by the College was an invalid conclave, an utter nullity. What makes this understanding of Universi Dominici Gregisparticularly cogent and plausible is the clear Promulgation Clause at the end of this Apostolic Constitution and its usage of the word “scienter” (“knowingly”).  The Papal Constitution Universi Dominici Gregis thus concludes definitively with these words:  “.   .   .   knowingly or unknowingly, in any way contrary to this Constitution.”  (“.   .   .   scienter vel inscienter contra hanc Constitutionem fuerint excogitata.”)  [Note that His Holiness, Pope Paul VI, had a somewhat similar promulgation clause at the end of his corresponding, now abrogated, Apostolic Constitution, Romano Pontifici Eligendo, but his does not use “scienter”, but rather uses “sciens” instead.  This similar term of sciens in the earlier abrogated Constitution has an entirely different legal significance than scienter.] This word, “scienter”, is a legal term of art in Roman law, and in canon law, and in Anglo-American common law, and in each system, scienter has substantially the same significance, i.e., “guilty knowledge” or willfully knowing, criminal intent.  Thus, it clearly appears that Pope John Paul II anticipated the possibility of criminal activity in the nature of a sacrilege against a process which He intended to be purely pious, private, sacramental, secret and deeply spiritual, if not miraculous, in its nature. This contextual reality reinforced in the Promulgation Clause, combined with:  (1) the tenor of the whole document; (2) some other provisions of the document, e.g., Paragraph 76; (3) general provisions of canon law relating to interpretation, e.g., Canons 10 & 17; and, (4) the obvious manifest intention of the Legislator, His Holiness, Pope John Paul II, tends to establish beyond a reasonable doubt the legal conclusion that Monsignor Bergoglio was never validly elected Roman Pontiff.  This is so because:1.  Communication of any kind with the outside world, e.g., communication did occur between the inside of the Sistine Chapel and anyone outside, including a television audience, before, during or even immediately after the Conclave;2.   Any political commitment to “a candidate” and any “course of action” planned for The Church or a future pontificate, such as the extensive decade-long “pastoral” plans conceived by the Sankt Gallen hierarchs; and,3.  Any departure from the required procedures of the conclave voting process as prescribed and known by a cardinal to have occurred:each was made an invalidating act, and if scienter (guilty knowledge) was present, also even a crime on the part of any cardinal or other actor, but, whether criminal or not, any such act or conduct violating the norms operated absolutely, definitively and entirely against the validity of all of the supposed Conclave proceedings. Quite apart from the apparent notorious violations of the prohibition on a cardinal promising his vote, e.g., commitments given and obtained by cardinals associated with the so-called “Sankt Gallen Mafia,” other acts destructive of conclave validity occurred.  Keeping in mind that Pope John Paul II specifically focused Universi Dominici Gregis on “the seclusion and resulting concentration which an act so vital to the whole Church requires of the electors” such that “the electors can more easily dispose themselves to accept the interior movements of the Holy Spirit,” even certain openly public media broadcasting breached this seclusion by electronic broadcasts outlawed by Universi Dominici Gregis.  These prohibitions include direct declarative statements outlawing any use of television before, during or after a conclave in any area associated with the proceedings, e.g.:  “I further confirm, by my apostolic authority, the duty of maintaining the strictest secrecy with regard to everything that directly or indirectly concerns the election process itself.” Viewed in light of this introductory preambulary language of Universi Dominici Gregis and in light of the legislative text itself, even the EWTN camera situated far inside the Sistine Chapel was an immediately obvious non-compliant  act which became an open and notorious invalidating violation by the time when this audio-visual equipment was used to broadcast to the world the preaching after the “Extra Omnes”.  While these blatant public violations of Chapter IV of Universi Dominici Gregis actuate the invalidity and nullity of the proceedings themselves, nonetheless in His great wisdom, the Legislator did not disqualify automatically those cardinals who failed to recognize these particular offenses  against sacred secrecy, or even those who, with scienter, having recognized the offenses and having had some power or voice in these matters, failed or refused to act or to object against them:  “Should any infraction whatsoever of this norm occur and be discovered, those responsible should know that they will be subject to grave penalties according to the judgment of the future Pope.”  [Universi Dominici Gregis, ¶55]    No Pope apparently having been produced in March 2013, those otherwise valid cardinals who failed with scienter to act on violations of Chapter IV, on that account alone would nonetheless remain voting members of the College unless and until a new real Pope is elected and adjudges them.  Thus, those otherwise valid cardinals who may have been compromised by violations of secrecy can still participate validly in the “clean-up of the mess” while addressing any such secrecy violations with an eventual new Pontiff.  In contrast, the automatic excommunication of those who politicized the sacred conclave process, by obtaining illegally, commitments from cardinals to vote for a particular man, or to follow a certain course of action (even long before the vacancy of the Chair of Peter as Vicar of Christ), is established not only by the word, “scienter,” in the final enacting clause, but by a specific exception, in this case, to the general statement of invalidity which therefore reinforces the clarity of intention by Legislator that those who apply the law must interpret the general rule as truly binding.  Derived directly from Roman law, canonical jurisprudence provides this principle for construing or interpreting legislation such as this Constitution, Universi Dominici Gregis.  Expressed in Latin, this canon of interpretation is:   “Exceptio probat regulam in casibus non exceptis.”  (The exception proves the rule in cases not excepted.)  In this case, an exception from invalidity for acts of simony reinforces the binding force of the general principle of nullity in cases of other violations. Therefore, by exclusion from nullity and invalidity legislated in the case of simony:   “If — God forbid — in the election of the Roman Pontiff the crime of simony were to be perpetrated, I decree and declare that all those guilty thereof shall incur excommunication latae sententiae.  At the same time I remove the nullity or invalidity of the same simoniacal provision, in order that — as was already established by my Predecessors — the validity of the election of the Roman Pontiff may not for this reason be challenged.”  His Holiness made an exception for simony.  Exceptio probat regulam in casibus non exceptis.  The clear exception from nullity and invalidity for simony proves the general rule that other violations of the sacred process certainly do and did result in the nullity and invalidity of the entire conclave. Comparing what Pope John Paul II wrote in His Constitution on conclaves with the Constitution which His replaced, you can see that, with the exception of simony, invalidity became universal. In the corresponding paragraph of what Pope Paul VI wrote, he specifically confined the provision declaring conclave invalidity to three (3) circumstances described in previous paragraphs within His constitution, Romano Pontfici Eligendo.  No such limitation exists in Universi Dominici Gregis.  See the comparison both in English and Latin below:Romano Pontfici Eligendo, 77. Should the election be conducted in a manner different from the three procedures described above (cf. no. 63 ff.) or without the conditions laid down for each of the same, it is for this very reason null and void (cf. no. 62), without the need for any declaration, and gives no right to him who has been thus elected. [Romano Pontfici Eligendo, 77:  “Quodsi electio aliter celebrata fuerit, quam uno e tribus modis, qui supra sunt dicti (cfr. nn. 63 sqq.), aut non servatis condicionibus pro unoquoque illorum praescriptis, electio eo ipso est nulla et invalida (cfr. n. 62) absque ulla declaratione, et ita electo nullum ius tribuit .”] as compared with:Universi Dominici Gregis, 76:  “Should the election take place in a way other than that prescribed in the present Constitution, or should the conditions laid down here not be observed, the election is for this very reason null and void, without any need for a declaration on the matter; consequently, it confers no right on the one elected.”  [Universi Dominici Gregis, 76:  “Quodsi electio aliter celebrata fuerit, quam haec Constitutio statuit, aut non servatis condicionibus pariter hic praescriptis, electio eo ipso est nulla et invalida absque ulla declaratione, ideoque electo nullum ius tribuit.”]Of course, this is not the only feature of the Constitution or aspect of the matter which tends to establish the breadth of invalidity. Faithful must hope and pray that only those cardinals whose status as a valid member of the College remains intact will ascertain the identity of each other and move with the utmost charity and discretion in order to effectuate The Divine Will in these matters.  The valid cardinals, then, must act according to that clear, manifest, obvious and unambiguous mind and intention of His Holiness, Pope John Paul II, so evident in Universi Dominici Gregis, a law which finally established binding and self-actuating conditions of validity on the College for any papal conclave, a reality now made so apparent by the bad fruit of doctrinal confusion and plain error. It would seem then that praying and working in a discreet and prudent manner to encourage only those true cardinals inclined to accept a reality of conclave invalidity, would be a most charitable and logical course of action in the light of Universi Dominici Gregis, and out of our high personal regard for the clear and obvious intention of its Legislator, His Holiness, Pope John Paul II.  Even a relatively small number of valid cardinals could act decisively and work to restore a functioning Apostolic See through the declaration of an interregnum government.  The need is clear for the College to convene a General Congregation in order to declare, to administer, and soon to end the Interregnum which has persisted since March 2013. Finally, it is important to understand that the sheer number of putative counterfeit cardinals will eventually, sooner or later, result in a situation in which The Church will have no normal means validly ever again to elect a Vicar of Christ.  After that time, it will become even more difficult, if not humanly impossible, for the College of Cardinals to rectify the current disastrous situation and conduct a proper and valid Conclave such that The Church may once again both have the benefit of a real Supreme Pontiff, and enjoy the great gift of a truly infallible Vicar of Christ.  It seems that some good cardinals know that the conclave was invalid, but really cannot envision what to do about it; we must pray, if it is the Will of God, that they see declaring the invalidity and administering an Interregnum through a new valid conclave is what they must do.  Without such action or without a great miracle, The Church is in a perilous situation.  Once the last validly appointed cardinal reaches age 80, or before that age, dies, the process for electing a real Pope ends with no apparent legal means to replace it. Absent a miracle then, The Church would no longer have an infallible Successor of Peter and Vicar of Christ.  Roman Catholics would be no different that Orthodox Christians. In this regard, all of the true cardinals may wish to consider what Holy Mother Church teaches in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, ¶675, ¶676 and ¶677 about “The Church’s Ultimate Trial”.  But, the fact that “The Church .   .   .  will follow her Lord in his death and Resurrection” does not justify inaction by the good cardinals, even if there are only a minimal number sufficient to carry out Chapter II of Universi Dominici Gregis and operate the Interregnum. This Apostolic Constitution, Universi Dominici Gregis, which was clearly applicable to the acts and conduct of the College of Cardinals in March 2013, is manifestly and obviously among those “invalidating” laws “which expressly establish that an act is null or that a person is effected” as stated in Canon 10 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law.  And, there is nothing remotely “doubtful or obscure” (Canon 17) about this Apostolic Constitution as clearly promulgated by Pope John Paul II.  The tenor of the whole document expressly establishes that the issue of invalidity was always at stake.  This Apostolic Constitution conclusively establishes, through its Promulgation Clause [which makes “anything done (i.e., any act or conduct) by any person  .   .   .   in any way contrary to this Constitution,”]  the invalidity of the entire supposed Conclave, rendering it “completely null and void”. So, what happens if a group of Cardinals who undoubtedly did not knowingly and wilfully initiate or intentionally participate in any acts of disobedience against Universi Dominici Gregis were to meet, confer and declare that, pursuant to Universi Dominici Gregis, Monsignor Bergoglio is most certainly not a valid Roman Pontiff.  Like any action on this matter, including the initial finding of invalidity, that would be left to the valid members of the college of cardinals.  They could declare the Chair of Peter vacant and proceed to a new and proper conclave.  They could meet with His Holiness, Benedict XVI, and discern whether His resignation and retirement was made under duress, or based on some mistake or fraud, or otherwise not done in a legally effective manner, which could invalidate that resignation.  Given the demeanor of His Holiness, Benedict XVI, and the tenor of His few public statements since his departure from the Chair of Peter, this recognition of validity in Benedict XVI seems unlikely. In fact, even before a righteous group of good and authentic cardinals might decide on the validity of the March 2013 supposed conclave, they must face what may be an even more complicated discernment and decide which men are most likely not valid cardinals.  If a man was made a cardinal by the supposed Pope who is, in fact, not a Pope (but merely Monsignor Bergoglio), no such man is in reality a true member of the College of Cardinals.  In addition, those men appointed by Pope John Paul II or by Pope Benedict XVI as cardinals, but who openly violated Universi Dominici Gregis by illegal acts or conduct causing the invalidation of the last attempted conclave, would no longer have voting rights in the College of Cardinals either.  (Thus, the actual valid members in the College of Cardinals may be quite smaller in number than those on the current official Vatican list of supposed cardinals.) In any event, the entire problem is above the level of anyone else in Holy Mother Church who is below the rank of Cardinal.  So, we must pray that The Divine Will of The Most Holy Trinity, through the intercession of Our Lady as Mediatrix of All Graces and Saint Michael, Prince of Mercy, very soon rectifies the confusion in Holy Mother Church through action by those valid Cardinals who still comprise an authentic College of Electors.  Only certainly valid Cardinals can address the open and notorious evidence which points to the probable invalidity of the last supposed conclave and only those cardinals can definitively answer the questions posed here.  May only the good Cardinals unite and if they recognize an ongoing Interregnum, albeit dormant, may they end this Interregnum by activating perfectly a functioning Interregnum government of The Holy See and a renewed process for a true Conclave, one which is purely pious, private, sacramental, secret and deeply spiritual.  If we do not have a real Pontiff, then may the good Cardinals, doing their appointed work “in view of the sacredness of the act of election”  “accept the interior movements of the Holy Spirit” and provide Holy Mother Church with a real Vicar of Christ as the Successor of Saint Peter.   May these thoughts comport with the synderetic considerations of those who read them and may their presentation here please both Our Immaculate Virgin Mother, Mary, Queen of the Apostles, and The Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.N. de PlumeUn ami des Papes

About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
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3 Responses to LET THE READER BEWARE !! IT IS WITH MUCH MISGIVING THAT I PUBLISH THIS ARTICLE BY ROSS DOUTHAT. IN HIS STRIVING FOR OBJECTIVITY DOUTHAT IS UNCRITICAL OF FRANCIS’ HERESIES AND ASSUMES THE POSTURE OF A NON-BELIEVER WITNESSING A FIGHT BETWEEN CONSERVATIVES AND LIBERALS. HIS IMPARTIALITY RENDERS HIS NARRATIVE DANGEROUS FOR A CONSERVATIVE CATHOLIC WHO ACCEPTS THE NICENE CREED AND THE CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH AS CLEAR EXPOSITIONS OF WHAT CATHOLICS MUST BELIEVE IN ORDER TO BE FULLY MEMBERS OF THE CHURCH. READ HIS ARTICLE WITH A CRITICAL EYE.

  1. hellenback7 says:

    @unwillingecumist
    I tend to agree with you but the man has never declared himself a prophet so the fact that he picked up on this pope’s tendencies and questioned where they might be leading back in 2015 at least indicates he has his eyes open.

    Prophecy, as far as I know, is not just related to “predicting” future events but is also related to being able to accurately read the signs of the present time.

    Douthat might not display enough “alarm” at the state of the Church these days but he is certainly aware that something unusual and unfortunate is taking place. If he took a more radical public stance, he would likely lose any ability to have the reach/credibility he has to try bring these “irregularities” to light to a very wide audience.

    I can’t even reach my own family members and am criticized by them for not trusting or “liking” Francis if/when I even gently criticize some of his policies and obvious tendencies. I get the “so now you criticize this pope when you don’t “like” what he says”; not realizing in any way that it has nothing to do with what I might like or not.

    Cafeteria Catholics are so blind to what the Church actually teaches, and have been allowed/encouraged to use their “conscience” (with no reminders other than in the CCC which they reject) that they are responsible for educating said conscience, it is no wonder they don’t want to hear the Truth and think Catholicism is subject to what one likes or doesn’t like!

    It’s a stunning development when those who couldn’t care less what other popes have taught/held to be true (along with centuries of tradition) are now happy that this pope has “changed” things that have not even actually been officially changed. Other than his allowing “limited” communion for those not licitly married (or are actually Catholics for Lutheran spouses) and pushing the limits in the CCC on the death penalty.

    These things are bad enough but the general “slippery slope” theology is what is truly concerning. Just look at the damage from the CCCB’s “Winnipeg statement” if you want an egregious example of where these “limited permissions” lead.

    I’m pretty sure this pope is counting on the “give ’em an inch they’ll take a mile” tendency lurking within our human nature. I for one am not accepting the inch.

  2. The below article is from 2015, so most of what Douthat thought had not yet come to pass has in fact come to pass.

    > WordPress.com

  3. Mary D says:

    Since this was written in 2015, perhaps Ross Douthat has updated his thinking.

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