It is becoming increasingly difficult to defend Pope Francis, since although he has not tried to officially teach anything contrary to the Doctrine of the Faith and cannot therefore be accused of formal heresy, his homilies and talks do seem to include questionable statements, and his acts do seem to lack prudence and consistency with our doctrine. Someone said to me recently that they think the ‘sede vacante’ folk may be right; that there is no Pope on the throne of Peter. I have never held that position, but yes, I can see where they are coming from. Indeed a lady said to me last week that Paul VI spoke of the smoke of Satan entering the Church, and that she sees it in Francis; that she is very disturbed by Pope Francis, having returned to the full practice of her Faith only 14 years ago during the papacy of John-Paul II.
Looking at things as they stand today, Francis can be said to have followed a programme that is anything but Catholic. As the New York Times recently reminded us:
Francis is a Jesuit, and like many members of Catholic religious orders, he tends to view the institutional church, with its parishes and dioceses and settled ways, as an obstacle to reform. He describes parish priests as “little monsters” who “throw stones” at poor sinners. He has given curial officials a diagnosis of “spiritual Alzheimer’s.” He scolds pro-life activists for their “obsession” with abortion. He has said that Catholics who place an emphasis on attending Mass, frequenting confession, and saying traditional prayers are “Pelagians” — people who believe, heretically, that they can be saved by their own works.
Such denunciations demoralize faithful Catholics without giving the disaffected any reason to return. Why join a church whose priests are little monsters and whose members like to throw stones? When the pope himself stresses internal spiritual states over ritual observance, there is little reason to line up for confession or wake up for Mass.
We cannot overlook the fact that Francis has permitted, according to Schonborn and Kasper (even if in only a few circumstances) for those in objectively grave sin (adulterers) to receive our Lord in Holy Communion, and said that seeking to convert others are is grave sin -see Lifesite News (that is., those who actually follow the command of the Lord to ‘Go, teach all nations’ are grave sinners). When he hear that Francis’ heart is in the right place we cannot help but agree but also hear the voices that cry out ‘yes but to ease their temporal pain his is endangering their immortal souls;. his thinking seems stuck (fossilised) in the theories of the 1960’s and 1970’s’ (that being, of course, the time of such confused teaching it brought the Bishops of the Extraordinary Synod to call for a Catechism of Vatican II.)
In discussion with those who think the sedevacantists may be right, a dreadful possibility arises: that Francis has accepted the authority of the papacy, but not its responsibility of defending the Faith, which papal authority exists only to serve. I cannot help but think of St Paul here: that epsicopal authority is given ‘unto edification, and not unto destruction’ (2 Corinthians 10:8). By undermining the Church’s previous stance on conversions; by celebrating heretics and by allowing those who are objectively speaking in grave sin to receive Holy Communion, Francis cannot be surprised to find himself accused by many of destroying rather than edifying; of abusing papal authority to remake the Church to his own liking. Where does one go with this? Does one see Francis as a wilful subversive, or as a good man making imprudent remarks and setting up imprudent pastoral approaches? For many, only the former fits in the light of his appointments to the College of Cardinals, which he appears to be filling with men who are not known for their fidelity to our Sacred Tradition.
Since Christ is in charge of His Church and has already defeated Satan the Father of Lies, faithful Catholics should take heart that a future pope will correct the oddities of Francis. After all, if Francis can turn 2000 years of teaching and practice on its head, a future pope can turn the teaching and pastoral programme of Francis on its head. No Pope -including Francis- can, as he and his admirers might like, set a course for the Church that is unchangeable, no matter how slowly he goes so as to achieve that end, since his papacy must be seen in the context of 2000 years of teaching and practice -and where he deviates, be can be and ought to be rebuked. Sadly, most bishops are not doing as St Paul did and ‘confronting him face to face’ (Gal.2v11); they too seem to think ‘pastoral care’ means alleviating temporal pain to the loss of eternal peace.
Whether one wants to say Francis is a good man who makes imprudent judgements, or a man who is deliberately subversive, one cannot easily say that Francis has shown himself clearly and unquestionably loyal to the previous 2000 years of teaching and pastoral practice; indeed the very reason he is lauded by many is that he is leaving the more difficult bits of the Faith behind. It is not insignificant that Cardinals such as Burke and Sarah (‘Either God or Nothing’, Fayard publishing, France) and the hierarchyof Poland through the President of their Episcopal Conference, appear at odds with Francis simply because they are holding to that 2000 years -as must we all if we want to remain faithful to the teaching of Christ and His Apostles. We cannot be ultramontanists who tie themselves to whoever happens to inhabit the See of Peter; we must be tied rather to the Deposit of Faith.