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The Pope’s ‘Quiet Revolution’

Damon Linker has written a must-read column about Pope Francis’s long game. [1] He points out the way that Francis has handled several controversial issues, most recently homosexuality. Excerpts:

What unites all of these examples is a distinctive approach to church dogma and doctrine. Instead of acting as an expositor of these core teachings of the church, the pope selectively diverges from them in his actions and statements without deigning to change the teachings themselves. The implicit message is the same in every case: The pope himself thinks it’s possible to be a member of the church in good standing while failing to abide by all of the institution’s rules.

This is significantly different than the pope acknowledging that everyone is a sinner and will therefore break the rules from time to time. That standard view presumes that the divergence from the rule is a failing that requires repentance and reconciliation (the sacrament of confession), along with the intention on the part of the sinner to do better next time. Francis’ position is different — implying that the lack of conformity to church teaching is acceptable, requiring no change or improvement in behavior.

Juan Carlos Cruz is gay, that’s how God made him, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

But of course church teaching contradicts this. Which puts Pope Francis in the position of effectively promulgating two truths — implicitly affirming the official, harsher doctrine while subtly undermining it with a less stringent pastoral teaching. Instead of seeking to change the underlying rules, which would risk divisiveness and even schism, he shows that it’s perfectly alright for a priest or layperson to diverge from or ignore the rule in the name of welcoming as many people as possible to Christ’s church.


I think the pope’s strategy for a longer game displays greater psychological acuity — and Machiavellian cunning. Francis may be betting that once the church stops preaching those doctrines that conflict most severely with modern moral norms, the number of people who uphold and revere them will decline rapidly (within a generation or two). Once that has happened, officially changing the doctrine will be much easier and much less likely to provoke a schism (or at least a major one) than it is in the present.

Read the whole thing.  [1] I think this is exactly right. Francis is waiting the orthodox out. In this light, I understand better why his minions (e.g., Antonio Spadaro, SJ) are denouncing the Benedict Option [2], even as they mischaracterize it: they want to crush any potential living opposition among the laity to their modernist revolution.


Meanwhile, in far better news, Cardinal Sarah, preaching at Chartres, brings the heat and the light from Africa. [3] An astonishing sermon! Excerpt:

Dear young people, if today Christ calls you to follow him as a priest, as a religious, do not hesitate! Say to him: “fiat”, an enthusiastic and unconditional yes!

God wants you to have need of you, what grace! What a joy! The West has been evangelized by the Saints and the Martyrs. You, young people of today, will be the saints and the martyrs that the nations are waiting for in a New Evangelization! Your homelands are thirsty for Christ! Do not disappoint them! The Church trusts you!

I pray that many of you will answer today, during this Mass, the call of God to follow him, to leave everything for him, for his light. Dear young people, do not be afraid. God is the only friend who will never disappoint you! When God calls, he is radical. It means He goes all the way to the root. Dear friends, we are not called to be mediocre Christians! No, God calls us all to the total gift, to the martyrdom of the body or the heart!

Dear people of France, it is the monasteries that made the civilization of your country! It is men and women who have accepted to follow Jesus to the end, radically, who have built Christian Europe. Because they have sought God alone, they have built a beautiful and peaceful civilization, like this cathedral.

People of France, peoples of the West, you will find peace and joy only by seeking God alone! Return to the Source! Return to the monasteries! Yes, all of you, dare to spend a few days in a monastery! In this world of tumult, ugliness and sadness, monasteries are oases of beauty and joy. You will experience that it is possible to put concretely God in the center of his whole life. You will experience the only joy that will not pass.

UPDATE: Reader Tom makes a good point:

I love Cardinal Sarah, I hope he will become Clement XV before long, and re-suppress those dang Jesuits for good.

BUT… I was very disappointed about the part of the sermon that asserted priestly celibacy as an unassailable part of Apostolic Tradition, and as something that constitutes an ontological part of the priesthood as such.

To imply that the married presbyterate of the Eastern Churches (Catholic or Orthodox), or those admitted under the Pastoral Provision and the Ordinariate in the Latin Church, are somehow ontologically lesser priests, is frankly preposterous.

I think there are many good reasons and ways to defend the prevailing discipline of the Latin Church without making unwarranted sweeping metaphysical claims that, universal as they might claim to be, are ultimately rooted in a narrow Latin parochialism… which in turn makes their claims to universality seem all the more ridiculous.

Also, the good Cardinal also said something about the priest being not merely “alter Christus,” but somehow *literally Christ himself.*

I’m sorry, but THAT to me smacks of a kind of metaphysical hyperclericalism that resulted in some of the most horrifying stories of the abuse crisis… the ones where those children who were brave enough to tell their own parents what Father X did do them and beg them for help, were instead slapped across the face and told not to tell lies about a priest, who is after all the very voice and manifestation of God.

I’m sure that’s not how Cdl Sarah MEANT it, but that’s why we have to be very careful with our words, and why I get frustrated with the “Trad” tendency to just want to indiscriminately swing the pendulum as far in the other direction as possible, instead of searching for the “royal road of the Fathers,” as the Orthodox like to say.

A Catholic reader writes to say that as hard as the Francis papacy is for his Church, it is necessary medicine:

Francis & Co seem to me to have challenged the supposed JP2 “conservative consensus” and “comfortable ultramontanism,” under which the seeds of latent schism and heresy continued to fester unbounded.The current regime is bad, but those contradictions couldn’t be papered over any longer one way or another. Battle lines are being drawn. Like your prognostications for Western society at large, it’s not going to be pretty. A lot of people won’t know what hit ’em, and many will find themselves asking, with the Psalmist (11:3 KJV): If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?

Another reader writes:

Also from Cardinal Sarah’s homily at Chartres:
The world we must not love, as Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa commented in his homily on Good Friday 2018, to which we do not have to comply, is not, as we all know, the world created and loved by God, it is not the people of the world to whom, on the contrary, we must always go to, especially the poor and the poor of the poor, to love them and serve them humbly … No! The world not to love is another world; it is the world as it became under the rule of Satan and sin. The world of ideologies that deny human nature and destroy the family … structures from the UN, which impose a new global ethic, play a decisive role and have today become an overwhelming power, spreading through the airwaves through the unlimited possibilities of technology. In many Western countries, it is a crime today to refuse to submit to these horrible ideologies. This is what we call adaptation to the spirit of the times, conformism. A great British believer and poet of the last century, Thomas Stearns Eliot wrote a few verses that say more than whole books: “In a world of fugitives, the person taking the opposite direction will appear to run away”.

The Eliot quote seems like it could be a helpful response to those who characterize The Benedict Option [2] as withdrawal. It’s not a withdrawal, it’s a standing your ground, a refusal to be swept by the crowd who are rushing over ideological cliffs.

Perfect. Yes, that’s it.

104 Comments (Open | Close)

104 Comments To "The Pope’s ‘Quiet Revolution’"

#1 Comment By John Spragge On May 25, 2018 @ 11:39 pm

Quoting Seven Sleepers:

“TO admit that God made people Gay (because of “gay” genes or biochemical and hormonal (ad infinitum) etc.) is to grant that the body is actually producing thought; that genes can be traced directly to homosexual mental imagery, or that hormones and biochemistry are producing specific mental content. This. Is. Not. Acceptable. Full stop.”

A proposition is never acceptable or unacceptable; it is either true or it isn’t. If we believe anything for any reason other than that it is, to the best of our observation and reason, the truth, we will in the end deceive nobody but ourselves. To claim to believe an untruth for religious reasons means, in the words of C. S. Lewis, offering “the Author of truth the unclean sacrifice of a lie”.

“…Science will NEVER be able to prove otherwise…”

This grossly misunderstands the nature of science. The scientific process and method claims to “prove” very few things. Observation tells us most sexual behaviour is genetically determined, what we call instinctive, because most sexual behaviour takes place within species that have no observable social structure and no known way, other than genetics, to transmit behaviour patterns. The hypothesis that sexual behaviour in humans has a significant biological basis thus remains unproven, strictly speaking, but does have a great deal of evidence to support it. Refuting these observations requires a set of observations that contradict the hypothesis, or a rational alternative explanation.

This matters, because Jesus tells us that the basis of the Law is love: on these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets (Matthew 22:40) In Luke 10, Jesus makes plain what love of neighbour means, in the parable of the Good Samaritan: it means practical compassion. The Church (meaning the whole Body of Christ) cannot offer practical compassion to people without acknowledging and accepting the reality of their situation.

Which brings things around to Francis. As many people in this thread have already pointed out, Francis responded pastorally, and I would add this: he acted in accordance with what the evidence of history strongly suggests is the church’s actual pastoral praxis. Going back to the middle of the last century, I can cite at least one example: Francis Poulenc, a well regarded artistic interpreter of the faith who was an out Gay man. As far as I can tell the church welcomed his celebration of Christian history and in particular the Martyrs of Compiègne. That’s just the case I happen to know because I had the good fortune to be an extra in Robert Carsen’s superb production of Dialogues of the Carmelites when it came to Toronto. Maybe the church has drummed out ten or twenty million people for homosexuality and I just haven’t noticed, but I somehow doubt it. I believe Francis is just doing and saying in the light what the church has pretty much always done.

#2 Comment By anonymousdr On May 27, 2018 @ 12:58 pm

“”People thinking Cdl Sarah is going to be the next pope have had some good weed. By the end of next month, Pope Francis will have appointment almost half of the cardinal electors (47%), and he appears to be one of those popes whose election has energized what had been a formerly less than robust constitution (it happens), at least for now.”

The Cardinals who elected Francis had overwhelmingly been appointed by JPII and Benedict. So, the cardinals obviously don’t feel obligated to elect someone like the pope who appointed them.”

Francis has appointed a lot of people to the college of cardinals from “the peripheries”, about whom he likely knows very little.

It is not entirely unreasonable to think that cardinals from Iraq, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Japan, and Madagascar (to name a few of the locations from where the new Cardinals hail) would be inclined to elect someone more like Cardinal Sarah than someone like Cardinal Marx. It is perhaps even more likely that they would elect someone like Cardinal Tagle of Manilla (although he might be a little too young), but who knows.

It is also possible that many formerly moderate Cardinals from the industrialized world may have flipped on Francis and see his Papacy as creating more problems than it solves. The fact that you have Cardinals from places like Canada and the Netherlands (not known as hotbeads of clerical conservatism) saying pretty intemperate things *in public* about the Pope makes you wonder what people are saying in private. It is entirely possible, even probable, that a lot of American/European prelates are unhappy with how AL has played out, but are keeping quiet about it.

The internal politics of the Vatican are about the most opaque on the planet, and I wouldn’t dare try to guess who the next Pope will be.

#3 Comment By a commenter On May 28, 2018 @ 11:45 am

“Observation tells us most sexual behaviour is genetically determined, what we call instinctive, because most sexual behaviour takes place within species that have no observable social structure and no known way, other than genetics, to transmit behaviour patterns. The hypothesis that sexual behaviour in humans has a significant biological basis thus remains unproven, strictly speaking, but does have a great deal of evidence to support it. Refuting these observations requires a set of observations that contradict the hypothesis, or a rational alternative explanation.”

Sorry, I just saw this. Certainly sexual behavior in lower animals is probably mostly genetic, but some higher animals have “culture” which is learned behavior that is passed on by the general community. Humans are the most complex society with fewest instinctive behaviors and many learned behaviors, so it is completely feasible to propose that culture (rather than genetics) plays a large part in our sexual behavior.

In addition, the best twin studies I’ve read found that for men, about 25 to 35% of variation in sexual orientation could be explained by genetics, which apparently is in the “moderate” category. For women, it was less, I forget the exact number but it was in the “minimal” category.

#4 Comment By Miguel On May 28, 2018 @ 11:20 pm

Jesus treated women with egality, and that was scandalous in his time and to his disciples. He said to the woman -better wife- caugh in adultery: “Then I don’t condemn you either. Go and don’t sin anymore.”

As far as I remember, female adultery and male homosexuality had the same punishment in the Old Testament. If Jesus Christ could stand against the application of such a punishment in one case, why not in the other? Can we be sure that homosexuality is the worst sin?

Maybe, as much as Jesus had to claim that the jewish religious teachers of his time were presenting many traditions created by men -and not necessarily all of them bad- as the Law of God, the time could have arrived to check others statements which, could be true -as in revealed by God- but could also not be so after all.

Obviously, I don’t mean the Holy Trinity or the Double Nature of Christ kind of statements, since they are, for me “only logical” conclusions to what appears in the Canonic Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles. Sure, I haven’t mentioned the unwritten tradition, and John claims that Jesus did and said many things which weren’t written. But I cannot help to think that, for instance, Saint Paul, from time to time, was suffering, with total good faith, of the problem of being one of the firsts to preach, without the fully reflection which came later, and which possibly hasn’t really finished.