The recent visit of Pope Francis to the United States has been hailed by the American media, from MSNBC to Fox, from a delighted President Obama to a tearful John Boehner, as a huge success, that is, as Church spokesmen describe it, a “pastoral success.” Francis came, he spoke, he conquered, goes the narrative. Millions of faithful Catholics, and non-Catholics alike, were moved emotionally, and, indeed, spiritually by the Holy Father’s visit…a visit in which he mostly avoided addressing serious doctrinal issues and moral questions like abortion, radical secularization, same sex marriage, and rampant heterodox teaching by American clergy. Rather than inform Catholics Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi that they were violating church teaching on abortion and any number of other doctrines, he warmly embraced them. What, then, was the signal he telegraphed to American Catholics and others watching his actions?
True, there were some discordant voices and criticism. Rush Limbaugh, on his radio program, questioned the pope taking sides on hotly debated issues such as climate change which, by definition, is not a question legitimately subject to doctrinal address. By no means is the science decided on that issue, and for the pope to enter the debate with a detailed position could well serve to confuse the faithful and discredit the Church’s reputation as “mater et magistra,” as well as its position as a guide in other areas. Certainly, the Church has every right, indeed, the duty, to offer broad moral guidance on the serious obligations that all human beings have to protect and conserve the “goodness of the earth” and on the stewardship over creation given to mankind by God as a special charge and responsibility. But choosing sides on as-yet undecided and hotly debated raw scientific data, much of which is vigorously disputed, is both irresponsible and a violation of the pastoral teaching role of the pope.
Although Rush, who is not Catholic, did not vent the question, the implication that he was posing was whether there was a misuse of papal authority.
Most recently, news of the pope’s private meeting with embattled Kentucky clerk of court, Kim Davis—only made public after the pope’s departure from American shores—has made substantial waves, and has given the Vatican and the pope an ineradicable black eye, even more embarrassing than the pope’s ill-advised leap into environmental science.
At first, after the news of Davis’s meeting became public, the entirety of the American media, including
Fox, labeled it “purported” or “claimed.” The Vatican refused to confirm or deny it. Then, on October 1, Vatican spokesman, Fr. Federico Lombardi, poured gasoline on what might have been an admirable action by this pope who, very simply refuses to forcefully preach traditional Catholic doctrine on morality, while shaping his words and expressions as much as possible to be “inclusive” and non-condemnatory.
Lombardi, finally and reluctantly, confirmed the short visit of Davis and her husband with the pope, stating that such meetings are due to the pope’s “kindness and availability” and that the pope really only had one real “audience” (and that with former students and their family members), and only a brief “meeting,” as he termed it, with Davis. “The pope did not enter into the details of the situation of Mrs. Davis and his meeting with her should not be considered a form of support of her position in all of its particular and complex aspects,” he stated [emphasis added].Perhaps even more disturbing, The New York Times and CNN reported that a man in the formal audience, Yayo Grassi, is an openly gay Argentine caterer who lives in Washington. In a video posted online, Grassi is shown entering the Vatican’s embassy, embracing his former teacher and introducing Francis to his longtime partner.
All politeness and charity aside, for any traditional Catholic who is faithful to the teachings and sacred tradition of the Church, such admissions and actions are scandalous. In the name of a “pastoral approach,” Pope Francis has attempted to embrace the emboldened and unbending enemies of the Church, who demand compromise but offer nothing acceptable in return…indeed, there is little difference between “compromise” and “surrender.” To not boldly confront error and evil is, in fact, to recognize their legitimacy. A necessary and forthright response to the tawdry enticements and engulfing evils that our world has embraced must go hand-in-hand with charity and pastoralism. As a matter of record, in condemning and casting out evil, the Church has always offered forgiveness and the pardon of Our Lord; but such charity is only given as an integral part of a package: condemn and denounce forthrightly the sin, but love the sinner. During his American visit (and previously during his pontificate), this pope generally failed to do the former, while converting the latter into something easily mistaken for touchy-feely social gospelism, bereft of the traditional framework of Catholic doctrine.
For hundreds of years the Catholic faithful have benefited from a long succession of holy and orthodox popes, whose daily homilies, addresses, and declarations have closely reflected and mirrored the consistent, indefectible, and defined doctrines and teachings of the Church. Thus, when Pope Pius XII defended the use of capital punishment applied in justice for certain crimes, he was repeating constant Catholic teaching; there was, if you will, a seamless connection between the pope’s statements and the cumulative Catholic theology and teaching on the topic.
In his Address to Lenten Preachers, February 23, 1944 [see The Teachings of Pope Pius XII, 1958, p. 248], Pius XII said: “…excepting in cases of legitimate defense, of just war fought with just means, and of capital punishment inflicted by the public authority for well-determined and well-proven gravest crimes, human life is intangible.” Now consider the comments of Francis demanding a total end to capital punishment and even phrases in the new Catechism of the Catholic Church, which imply that capital punishment goes against current Church teaching (reasons for it are now “very rare, if not practically non-existent”).
Capital punishment is just one example of how, in the years since the Second Vatican Council, the praxis of Church leaders and of popes, themselves, has radically changed and diverged from traditional doctrine. What has happened? By definition, by sacred tradition and consistent teaching for over nearly 2,000 years, the Church had given to the faithful a fully formed set of doctrines, indefectible, not subject to change or reversal. For those, then, who were termed Modernists or Liberals, desirous of effecting radical revolution within the Church, how to alter and effect such revolution? To oppose openly defined teachings would clearly reveal to faithful Catholics that the pastors and theologians so doing had forfeited the charism of true faith.
As Professor Roberto di Mattei has abundantly demonstrated in his magisterial study, The Second Vatican Council (English translation, Loretto Publications, 2012), what the dominant liberal bishops did at that council was usher in an age of “pastoralism”, what was at the time termed an “apertura a sinistra”–-an opening to the Left. The Council was defined at its opening as “pastoral, non-dogmatic.” What emerged was not a formal or direct challenge to previous doctrine, but rather, what in praxis often contradicted it. In many cases, subsequent declarations and pastoral letters, while not formally denying sacred tradition and sacred scripture, opened the door to ignoring them or perverting their meaning, and thus establishing in the minds of the Catholic faithful—so accustomed to their pastors seamlessly conveying traditional teaching—that what was being said hic et nunc was the correct doctrinal teaching.
Such a process epitomizes the heresy of Modernism, and the result has been the deconstruction of the Church since Vatican II. Its virtual departure from the everyday battlefield against rampant secularism, immorality, and Cultural Marxism, serves as a sad, starkly visible sign of the nearly complete success of the real enemies of the Church in subverting its message, if not its mission.
Still, in all their victory jubilation the theological Liberals and Cultural Marxists must yet contend with the promises made by Christ to St. Peter and his successors that the power of Hell will not prevail against the Church. Indeed, the chastisement that St. Paul made to St. Peter when he failed to defend the faith reminds us that the pope enjoys personal infallibility only when affirming the immemorial doctrines of the Church and formally defining articles of faith and morals, addressed to the whole church, consistent with previous doctrine, and employing his specific Apostolic authority. Pope Francis, despite his failure to confirm the faithful in their historic faith and his venture into subjects where popes should not venture, did not do that on his visit. It is then not only possible but even obligatory “to resist him to the face,” respectfully but forcefully, out of love for the Church and, yes, for him.