In a recent jet-presser at 30,000 feet, Pope Francis commented that he felt “honored” that some traditional-Catholic Americans were attacking him. Why does this not surprise me? It seems obvious to me that he doesn’t care for those Catholic Americans who consider themselves “orthodox” or “traditional.” On the flip side, I think it’s fair and safe to assume the same vice versa. Many of my fellow Catholic brethren in the US feel the exact same way about him. As shocking as it seems that such antagonism would be prevalent in a Christian institution like the Catholic Church, historically speaking, this isn’t all that uncommon.
During the pontificates of Pope St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, I heard the same negative rhetoric in reverse, wherein Catholic Americans of a liberal, modernist or Leftist persuasion made it clear that they weren’t fond of these two popes, and longed for their demise. (The thought of resignation was not common in those days.) These same Catholics looked at the papacy as a “dial a pope” kind of institution, wherein they thought the change of a pope might produce a whole new doctrine. Such Catholics want the Church to relax its stand on sexual morality in particular, and they hope that a new pope will make that happen. Aside from such a mindset being totally unorthodox and non-Catholic to begin with, it appears that they’ve already gotten a bit of what they wanted under Pope Francis, and may possibly get more in the years to come, if not under this pope then maybe his successor. Francis has stacked the college of cardinals in such a way that nearly guarantees the next pope will be “Francis II” if not literally in name than certainly in reign. Leftist Catholics should be pleased that they’re finally getting what they want, even if it’s not really Catholic. I find it curious though. What Leftist Catholics want is a Catholic Church that looks more like the Episcopal Church. If they ever get what they really want, what is there to keep them Catholic? Why not just go Episcopalian?
Yes, Pope Francis is disliked by many Faithful Catholics, and by that I mean those who actually go to mass on a regular basis, believe the Eucharist is the literal body and blood of Christ, and consider the Church’s teachings on sexual morality important. Pope Francis doesn’t seem to mind that he’s disliked by Catholics of this type, and he doesn’t seem to care for them much either. So there you go. That’s the current state of affairs in the Catholic Church today, or at least, that is my perception.
Believe it or not, I actually get a lot of questions about Pope Francis, both from Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Evangelicals seem to be especially interested in him. This is partially because of their Protestant eschatology, which for 500-years has taught that the pope is the Antichrist (thanks for nothing Martin Luther). So, for their sake, and to just help clear my mind of useless clutter, I’ve compiled the following list of my own thoughts on Pope Francis.
MY THOUGHTS ON POPE FRANCIS…
Pope Francis is NOT the Antichrist, nor is he the False Prophet. I know many Evangelicals go down this route thanks to Martin Luther (who was also antisemitic, altered the Bible, and said that Armageddon would happen before the middle of the 17th century). However, according to the Bible, in order to be the Antichrist or the False Prophet, one has to deny Jesus Christ entirely, and propose somebody else as the promised Messiah. Pope Francis, for all of his flaws, has not done this. Therefore, he cannot be the Antichrist or the False Prophet. Sorry, go find somebody else to pin the horns on.
Pope Francis IS the pope! One of the problems with having a “less than stellar” pope, or just a weak pope, is that we haven’t had one in so long, Catholics don’t know how to deal with one anymore. Just as many Evangelicals think he might be the Antichrist, so many Catholics (especially Traditional Catholics) think he might be an antipope. (An antipope is an impostor pope who was not validly elected. The Catholic Church has historically had more than a few.) The danger of this position is that nobody has the authority to declare any pope an antipope, except a pope! That means the only man who could ever declare Pope Francis an antipope would be either Pope Francis himself, or some future pope who has not yet been elected. Could that happen? Sure! But it’s not for me (or anyone else today) to make that call. As far as I’m concerned, Pope Francis is the pope — period. I’m not going to change that view, ever, unless Pope Francis or some future pope tells me to.
Pope Francis is a weak pope. I’m being charitable here. In the past I said he was a bad pope. I’m revising that now. I don’t know if he’s “bad” or not. What I do know is that he’s weak. By weak, what I mean to say is, he fails to confront the real enemies of his papacy, namely the Leftists who want to use him as a tool to further their selfish agenda. His conservative Catholic critics in America pose no real threat to his papacy. We are a weak and impotent. We can criticize all we want, but outside of the US, we have virtually no influence at all. We’re just clamoring chimes in the wind. We’re harmless. Pope Francis’ real enemies are the Leftists he’s invited into the leadership of the Church. They pose the real threat to his papacy. Every day they undermine it by teaching more than he’s authorized, and suggesting that his “real intention” is much more than he’s spoken. By doing this, they set up his papacy to be undone by some future pope, perhaps not the next one, but one eventually. Someday a conservative and traditional man will find his way into the papacy. I don’t know if I’ll live to see it (I’m almost 50), but it will happen. When that day comes, everything Francis has done can be undone. I’m speaking speculatively here, because I don’t know. I can’t know. What I’m really saying is this. The people the pope thinks are his friends are really his enemies, and they are using him like a tool to push their own selfish agenda, even if it destroys him and his legacy in the process.
Pope Francis has made mistakes. We’ve seen them in everything from 30,000-foot press conferences in his jet (“who am I to judge” and “I won’t say one word”), to papal encyclicals (Laudato Si), to apostolic exhortations (Amoris Laetitia), to interfaith agreements (Abu Dhabi Accord), and so on. As I said above, he’s allowing Leftists to destroy him and his legacy. It’s sad to watch, unfortunate to witness, and a tragedy to behold, but it doesn’t change the Catholic Faith. You see, Pope Francis is the pope, but he’s not Christ. The only Person who can change the teachings of the Catholic Church, so they mean the opposite of what they once meant, is Jesus Christ himself. The only way he could do that would be to drop down from Heaven, in the flesh, and make it so. The pope doesn’t have the authority to change established Church doctrine, neither do synods or councils. They can clarify doctrine, but they can never change it to mean something the opposite of what it once meant. When the pope says that man-made global warming is true (Laudato Si), he is stating his opinion not Church doctrine. When the pope says that couples who are divorced and “remarried” (without an annulment) can receive holy communion (Amoris Laetitia), he is stating his opinion not Church doctrine. When the pope says that God wills the diversity of religions (Abu Dhabi Accord), which implies that there is more than one way to salvation, he is stating his opinion not Church doctrine.
Pope Francis is centralizing power within the Vatican. The new governing document of the Vatican City-State, entitled Praedicate Evangelium, is designed to remove all autonomy from Vatican congregations and reorganize them as dicasteries, subordinating them all to the pope and Vatican Secretariat of State. In the end, the pope himself will be solely responsible for all major decisions coming out of the Vatican. While this has pros and cons, I personally think something like this might be beneficial. During the St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI papacies, my biggest frustration with the Vatican was that it’s an institution where the “left hand doesn’t seem to know what the right hand is doing.” When the pope would say one thing, some Vatican congregation or dicastery would come out with an opposing statement, or occasionally, some Vatican “office” would issue a random statement that seemed totally at odds with everything. Reigning in the Vatican actually seems like a good idea to me. The concern some Traditional Catholics have is that without autonomy, the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) will no longer be able to freely correct doctrinal problems within the Church. To which my response is: how well is that going now? The CDF issues a statement, and many in the Church just ignore it. So how effective is that? I mean, seriously, how many Freemasons are in the Church now? I personally know many Catholic men, doctors and businessmen, who are active Freemasons. Even though the CDF has explicitly said that membership in the Masonic Lodge is still forbidden to Catholics. The Vatican CDF has forbidden it! And yet, nobody seems to care. Priests and bishops (yes bishops) have told these men it’s “okay” for them to join the Lodge. I’ve shown them the CDF warning against it, but they don’t care. Nobody cares! In the end, the Vatican has no real authority in itself. Jesus Christ didn’t found the Vatican. It was founded in subsequent centuries by popes who needed assistance in Church governance. All the dicasteries of the Vatican serve the pope at his discretion, and that’s just it. They serve the pope. He’s the real authority, not them. Again, Traditionalists fear that this will put too much power into the hands of Pope Francis, to which I must reply that their concerns are warranted. Still, while the reigns of power currently rest in the hands of a weak and liberal pope, that could change one day. Once a strong and traditional pope occupies the Chair of Peter again, this new consolidated Vatican structure will give him the tool he needs to effect real reform rather quickly. By consolidating power in the Vatican to the Pope, Francis may be giving one of his successors all the resources he needs to completely undo his legacy. So I see this as a double-edged sword. It cuts both ways.
Pope Francis is decentralizing power outside of the Vatican. This came out in the Youth Synod, and he’s made a few mentions of this too. It’s likely to come out in the Amazon Synod as well. Pope Francis wants to vest national bishops conferences with the authority to self-govern, with less Vatican involvement. Again, I see this as a double-edged sword. It cuts both ways. On the one hand, it’s problematic because as many Catholics already know, a good number of national bishops conferences are corrupt and extremely liberal. On the other hand, it may give some of these bishops conferences (like the German Bishops Conference for example) “enough rope to hang themselves with.” It’s a foregone conclusion that the Catholic Church is headed for a massive schism in the not-too-distant future. Such a schism seems inevitable at this point. The question is; how will it go down? Nobody seems to know the answer to that. A lot of it may have to do with who the next pope is, after Pope Francis, and how he relates to the national bishops conferences. If these bishops conferences have been vested with a considerable amount of autonomy by Pope Francis, it may be all that much easier for Leftist bishops conferences to break away when a strong and traditional pope is eventually elected someday. As tragic as that may sound, one has to consider that such a schism already exists on an informal but de facto level. I’ve written more on this here.
Pope Francis is becoming irrelevant, as is his entire generation of bishops. The overwhelming vast majority of new priests are conservative and traditional. We’re talking upward in the neighborhood of 90%. With that, a growing number of young bishops are on the conservative and traditional side too. This has caused the older, and more liberal, generation of bishops to circle their wagons and promote themselves within the hierarchy in a desperate attempt to maintain power for as long as possible. Who knows what they’re waiting for? Maybe they’re hoping against hope that they can hold on long enough for a whole new generation of liberal priests to be ordained after this current generation of conservative and traditional priests becomes middle aged. Sorry, that’s not gonna happen. There aren’t enough liberal young Catholics in the pews left to draw from. Let’s face it, if they’re young, liberal and looking for ministry, the Anglican Communion makes a much more attractive alternative. The pay is better. Women can be ordained. Marriage is allowed. And same-sex relationships are celebrated. The only young Catholic men who want to be Catholic priests now are these highly zealous, pious, orthodox, traditional and conservative types the upper hierarchy has no interest in. The writing is on the wall, proverbially speaking. It’s over. All there is left to do is circle the wagons and wait until the bitter end. Pope Francis is helping to facilitate this, by promoting many old Liberals to the highest positions of power and influence in the Church. As a result, the disconnect between the upper echelons of the hierarchy, and the lower bishops, clergy and laity will grow ever wider. Young bishops, priests and laypeople already have little in common with today’s cardinals and archbishops. In the future, there just won’t be anything left they can agree on, as the Liberal echo-chamber grows louder at the top, while what’s left of the mainstream Church becomes more conservative at the bottom. Liberal parishes won’t last much longer, they’re already becoming very old and grey. Pope Francis is a relic of the 1970s, and so is most of his generation of bishops. The younger and more conservative Catholics no longer want them, and with each passing year they become less needed as well. Yes, Francis’ stacking of the College of Cardinals appears to insure the election of “Francis II” after he’s gone, but this next pope will have less liberal Archbishops to promote to cardinal electors. The pope after that will have even less. Eventually, they’re just gonna have to put some conservative and traditional archbishops back into the college of cardinals. It’s bound to happen sooner or later. I just hope I live long enough to see it.
Pope Francis has done some good things. Yes, he has. This is especially the case in regard to his handling of matters within the Ordinariates of Anglican Patrimony. (Though I wish he would approve our Daily Office, as we’ve been waiting for years!) He’s also made considerable progress bringing the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) back into talks about full regularization with Rome. He’s maintained a strong stand against same-sex “marriage” and homosexual relationships. He opposes gender theory as “ideological colonization.” He opposes female ordination. He’s gotten people thinking about the reality of the devil again. He single-handedly put a stop to a US-NATO led war against Syria in 2013 by embarrassing President Obama with a worldwide (televised) prayer rally against it. (Who knows how many lives were saved just because of that!) He’s called out the Italian Mafia. He’s inspired a large number of former Catholics to reconsider the Church, as well as a large number of Protestants to consider converting. He has brought all the dissidents against Church teaching out into the open. (People take note of who they are. A future pope may need that list, especially if he’s a strong, traditional one.) He’s unwittingly obliterated all remnants of neo-ultramontanism (or “hyper-papalism”) from among the ranks of conservative and traditional Catholics. This is the notion that the pope can never error in matters of religion. It’s a misunderstanding of papal infallibility, which many people are prone to, especially Traditionalists. It’s heresy anyway, so good riddance! The pope can error in his ordinary magisterium, and Pope Francis is giving us ample evidence of that. So let’s give credit where credit is due. Pope Francis has done some good things, perhaps unwittingly at times, but who cares? If it’s good than it’s good. We should accept it for what it is, and give the man credit where credit is due.
You should never judge a papacy until it’s over. Pope Francis’ papacy is still ongoing. If I could describe it in one word so far it would be “disappointing” but at the same time I can’t call it a total loss. I have learned some things from this pope, albeit not what I ever expected to learn, but they were lessons nonetheless. Anything can happen. Pope Francis could change his approach. He could surprise us all. Or maybe it will be more of the same. One thing is certain, he’s laying a foundation for the next pope that will be truly historic. The next pope, if Francis gets what he wants, will be “Francis II” (or some manifestation of that), and he’ll probably lead the Church into a doctrinal civil war. Or, the next pope, if something unexpected happens, could be “Pius XIII” (or some manifestation of that), and he’ll use the tools Francis has given him to clean up the Church with force. That will drive some of the national bishops conferences in Europe into schism for sure. In the end, I don’t think Pope Francis is the apocalyptic pope many make him out to be. I think he is, rather, just a stage designer, who is getting things ready for a much bigger drama to play out later, after he’s gone. But I could be wrong about that. Maybe he’ll live long enough to see it himself.