Friday, February 26, 2016

Can the Roman Catholic Church survive “Pope Francis”?

Here’s one HUGE reason why I think that those Reformed who want to adopt the mantle of “Catholicism” are hugely wrong-headed about it. “Catholic” is going to become a meaningless if not a shameful word in the decades to come.

And it has everything to do with what “Pope Francis” is doing. It seems to me that “this guy” has put into motion – at the highest possible level – a sequence of events, and a way that the most liberal and scandalous of “Roman Catholics” can claim “conscience” to justify any one of their morally aberrant behaviors – abortion, sex abuse, sodomy, rape, murder, pillage, the practice of organized crime – and still claim for themselves the mantel of “Faithful Roman Catholic”, with “the authorization of the Magisterium”.

The conservative Roman Catholic newspaper “National Catholic Register” gave this overview of “The Francis Method”:

Affirm Doctrine, Find Exceptions, Appeal to Conscience

The controversy over the exceptional case of administering contraceptives to religious sisters at grave risk of rape in the Congo civil war of the 1960s points to a pattern in this pontificate of introducing new or exceptional pastoral approaches that give primacy to conscience, while at the same time purporting to affirm Church doctrine….

Note that this writer is suggesting that this pope only “purports to affirm Church doctrine”. What’s the good of having a pope articulating Church doctrine, if you’re only going to reject his Magisterial leadership?

Aside from the moral problems posed by presenting the case in this context, there is no record of Paul VI allowing this exception, first raised during St. John XXIII’s pontificate. Nor is it mentioned in Humanae Vitae, indicating that Paul VI considered the case incompatible with the encyclical.

And despite the Congo case passing through the Holy Office (now the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith), there appears to be no subsequent magisterial document confirming the legitimacy of such an exception. The Vatican did not respond to an enquiry by the Register asking whether a magisterial document exists affirming the Congo exception.

Questions surrounding the official nature of the case aside, the approach the Pope and Father Lombardi took towards this issue points to a pattern of floating controversial pastoral innovations, which critics say conflict with Church teaching, by firmly underscoring an element of doctrine and then presenting exceptional cases that underline the primacy of conscience.

My sense is that this is already having the effect of gutting the teaching of “the Church” all over the world. Sandro Magister already writes about how this is happening in the Philippines.

… in offering such an example, Francis effectively made it understood that exceptions are allowed for the condemnation - formulated by “Humanae Vitae” of none other than Paul VI and reiterated by the Catechism of the Catholic Church - of “any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation, whether as an end or as a means.”

Not only that. With regard to these exceptions, what Francis did not say in explicit form has been said by others in his name.

Magister cites an official document of the Philippine bishops to the effect that:

"He … usefully called attention to two important moral precepts: First, there may be circumstances that invite a re-evaluation of the judgment on artificial means of contraception; second, the prodding of conscience should always be heeded, as long as every effort is made to form conscience properly.

"These positions are not in any way new. They have always formed part of Catholic moral theology and belong to the treasury of the Church’s heritage in health-care ethics.

“Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia”.

"Once more, the Pope has shown his sensitivity to complex human situations, allowed the world see the merciful face of the Church – the sacrament of a Merciful Lord – as he has remained the faithful steward of the message of the Gospel."

This text requires a note of explanation.

In the Philippines, for two years the use of contraception has been permitted and promoted by law.

And the bishops had long fought against the approval of this law on “reproductive health,” strongly backed by President Noynoy Aquino, a Catholic.

But right on the verge of Francis’s journey to that country, in January of 2015 (see photo), a book came out that criticized from top to bottom the battle fought by the bishops. A book that Fr. Lombardi recommended to the journalists preparing to follow the papal journey.

The author is a gifted Jesuit, Pierre de Charentenay, former president of the Centre Sèvres, the institute of higher studies of the Society of Jesus in Paris, former director from 2004 to 2012 of the magazine of the French Jesuits “Études,” and since 2014 a member of the college of writers of “La Civiltà Cattolica,” the magazine of the Rome Jesuits printed with the imprimatur of the Vatican authorities and directed by a man very close to the current pope, Fr. Antonio Spadaro.

So then, among the accusations that Fr. de Charentenay lodged against the bishops of the Philippines was that of being closed off and backward, not only with respect to the driving forces of modernity but also with respect to the urging of Francis.

Over the last 50 years, endless appeals have been made, by liberals in the Roman Catholic Church, to “the spirit of Vatican II” – this “spirit” had no real official status – and the conservative Roman Catholics could always say, “That’s just your interpretation”.

I predicted this several years ago:

What we are seeing is the new modus operandi of Rome as described by Raymond Brown: “Past statements are not rejected but are requoted with praise and then reinterpreted at the same time.”

Now, unless “Pope Francis” is declared to be an antipope (a thing which huge swaths of Roman Catholics will not accept), there will always be recourse to this “the treasury of the Church’s heritage”.

“The arguments used in the extreme case were immediately extended to other situations,” Valente added, “and, in each case, began the attack on the fundamental principle of the intrinsic negativity of contraceptive practice.”

The Pope may or may not have been aware of this in his attempt to find what he viewed as a compassionate pastoral solution. But whatever the backstory to raising the case, its presentation is becoming a familiar one: affirm doctrine, then highlight extraordinary cases or exceptions to the rule, and where possible, appeal to the primacy of conscience.

But this method is applicable in far more different situations than just contraception. We will see it used to justify virtually every moral evil known to man. It has been enabled by the Roman Catholic hermeneutic of reading Scripture and history in an anachronistic way to justify itself. Now it will be used to justify everything.

Either the Roman Catholic Church is going to explode into pieces, or the conservatives will end up tolerating all manner of evil in the name of being “Catholic”.


  1. John, is this really new, or a consequence of Rome's having swallowed the presuppostions of so-called "Liberal Protestantism" hook, line, & sinker? The Libs started questioning Scripture via Higher Criticism etc & began a doctrinal and moral meltdown; that the effects felt in the Protestant world are now being felt in Rome should come as no surprise.

    1. Some in Rome have swallowed it hook line and sinker. The appeal to "the spirit of Vatican II" has always had nebulous support, and the papacies of JPII and BXVI kind of tamped down on that. During those years, there was always the retort that they're not following the true meaning of the dogmas etc. But now that's all been turned on its head. It's been a long time coming, but now they have papal sanction, which will (being part of the Roman Catholic canon) will never go away. They can always use Jesuitical rules (as is being done here) to justify that this papal sanction applies to them in their "pastoral" situation. "Pope Francis" has opened the Pandora's box that the conservatives have always feared. And it's all "internally consistent" -- it's their own rules that they've constructed that are going to turn things inside out on them. They deserve what they get.