Will the Church Survive the Reformation of Pope Francis?

A Catholic commentator doesn't doubt Pope Francis' orthodoxy or personal piety, but questions his grasp of the state of the West based on the message he thinks the West needs to hear right now.

20.09.2013 // PRINT
Wikimedia Commons/Siyatalebi
You know it’s gotten substantially worrisome when you get an email blast from the heretical and dissenting Catholic organization, Call to Action, stating how encouraged they are “by Pope Francis’s remarks in his interview with Rev. Antonio Spadaro, S. J.”

Actually, it was a very insightful interview, and very well done by Father Sporado. It provides one with a great depth of insight and clarity into the beautiful charism of our Pope Francis. If you read some of his answers to a number of very good questions asked of him, you can finally come away with the answer to ‘why’ Pope Francis operates as he does as the Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church.


On the one hand, there is the empirical manthe total life experiences of Jorge Mario Bergoglio. These include all that he has learned over the course of being a religious man in the world – the total sum of all of his successes and failures and what he did and did not learn from them. On the other hand is the Catholic Church that his heart has watched from afar, even if physically close, for his entire life.

So, what happens when a man takes his total life experience into a new job? What happens when his worldview and beliefs of how things should be (based upon those life experiences) come into direct conflict with how things have been, based upon the expressed worldview and beliefs of his successors that shaped the current Catholic ethos? The answer to these questions is what has created the impetus of the Catholic Reformation of Pope Francis. This is not a theological reformation; Pope Francis believes all that the Church teaches. To the contrary, what Francis wants to reform and reformulate is the praxis of our faith in how we weigh, measure, and dispense the preaching of the word, the performance of the Sacraments, and the exercise of charity.

The Papacy and Reformation of Pope Francis will be exercised through three “windows.” I call them windows because we generally know what we are throwing out of windows, but we don’t always know is what comes in through them when we aren’t looking. The first window is called Rejectionism; the second is Indifferentism, and the last is Inclusivism. Indeed, the Church may be long overdue for a healthy dose of Pope Francis’ rejection of luxury, excessive comfort, and unnecessary spending. We will also benefit greatly from the inclusive nature of our Holy Father. Perhaps we haven’t had a better big-net fisherman in the Petrine ministry since Saint Peter himself. Yet where the people of Christ may suffer greatly from the Reformation of Francis is in regards to his indifference towards the evil of moral relativism. The following are three paragraphs that the mainstream media are rightly focusing on from the Pope’s interview with Father Sporado. I say rightly, because they are actually doing their job to talk about the important issues of today, in contrast to the Pope being indifferent towards directly confronting those very issues:

We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the Church, for that matter, is clear, and I am a son of the Church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.

The dogmatic and moral teachings of the Church are not all equivalent. The Church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. Proclamation in a missionary style focuses on the essentials, on the necessary things: this is also what fascinates and attracts more, what makes the heart burn, as it did for the disciples at Emmaus. We have to find a new balance; otherwise, even the moral edifice of the Church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel. The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.

I say this also thinking about the preaching and content of our preaching. A beautiful homily, a genuine sermon must begin with the first proclamation, with the proclamation of salvation. There is nothing more solid, deep and sure than this proclamation. Then you have to do catechesis. Then you can draw even a moral consequence. But the proclamation of the saving love of God comes before moral and religious imperatives. Today, sometimes it seems that the opposite order is prevailing. The homily is the touchstone to measure the pastor’s proximity and ability to meet his people, because those who preach must recognise the heart of their community and must be able to see where the desire for God is lively and ardent. The message of the Gospel, therefore, is not to be reduced to some aspects that, although relevant, on their own do not show the heart of the message of Jesus Christ.

Much like the whole interview, these three paragraphs are a beautiful perspective of how the faith should be transmitted. The only problem is that the leader of the Universal Church not only said it, but is practicing it. Again, when a person takes their total life experience as being universally true for all, then imposes it, what you get is the Reformation of Pope Francis.

Is it universally true that it is not necessary to talk about the intrinsic evils of abortion, abortifacient drugs, and gay marriage as often as possible? Absolutely not. I don’t know about Argentina, but I do know the world that I encounter everyday is on the precipice of losing countless generations to moral relativism. It is a world in which absolute truth does not exist. Indeed, it is a world that needs to hear salvation proclaimed and the faith catechized, but it is also a world that needs to be repeatedly told that life has value, that sex is marriage, and that marriage is for opposite genders. They need to be repeatedly told these things because the enemy is repeatedly telling them that life does not have value, that sex is for recreation, and that marriage is not gender specific. It is at the point now that whether we can first reach them through the Gospel or through natural law or through reason, we must help to save them by any moral means, lest they destroy themselves.

As we have always believed, it all begins with the sacredness and dignity of human life. That is the cornerstone of every truth that has ever been revealed to man. Included in the sacredness and dignity of human life is the sacredness and dignity of holy matrimony. Yet we are living in a world – perhaps not the world of Pope Francis – in which nothing is getting attacked by the wickedness and snares of the devil more than our children and our institution of marriage.

It is as if our Pope is detached from the real world; as if he doesn’t recognize the hour. His indifference towards moral relativism and what the world needs to hear right now is very troubling to me. He is like a man whose child is about to touch the hot stove, and he doesn’t yell, “STOP! HOT!” to the child. Rather, while the child is just inches away from touching the hot stove, he calmly tells the child what the stove is, then how the stove works, then after the child has burnt his hand, he comforts the child and bandages his hand. Maybe it’s the Jesuit in him that leads him to presuppose that all people are rational beings who don’t need to repetitively hear the truth until it sticks.

While in his new job, the Holy Father doesn’t yet seem to care to make the distinction between what the world needs to hear versus what the world needs to see. The sustained success of his reformation will always hinge on his ability to transition from being a big-vision leader to someone who can offer clarity of what he believes, build a system around it, and create disciples of his vision (trust and success are required for this last part).

The answer is that the Catholic Church will survive the Reformation of Pope Francis, even if he continues this “either/or” approach rather than a “both/and” approach. But if his indifference towards moral relativism is embraced in the West, it is the West who may not survive.

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