Damon Linker has written a must-read column about Pope Francis’s long game. 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. 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, 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. 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 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.