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Pope v. Traditionalists – A Catholic Civil War

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The above is paraphrasing the title of a recent article by Damian Thompson, associate editor of Britain’s oldest magazine, The Spectator. Thompson was referring to a speech delivered Oct. 24 by Pope Francis at the conclusion of the Synod on the Family in which 270 bishops from around the world met in Rome.

The pope said prelates should confront difficult issues “fearlessly, without burying our heads in the sand.” He accused traditionalist bishops of having “closed hearts,” “blinkered viewpoints,” judging “sometimes with superiority and superficiality.” Actually, the pope is in accord with all his prelates in condemning birth control, condoms, abortion and homosexuality.

Pope Francis recently traveled to Uganda and Kenya. “The Catholic Church in Uganda has been in alliance with all the other Churches in condemning and discriminating against LGBTI persons” where “homosexuality is illegal and attacks against gays have forced many to seek refuge abroad or lead secret lives at home.” The pontiff made no correction to his Ugandan bishops.

The leading cause of maternal death in Kenya is unsafe abortion. “More than 70 percent of women seeking post-abortion care in Kenya were not using contraception.” That country also has the fourth-largest HIV epidemic in the world. The pontiff offered no compassion to Kenyan women.

During the Q&A with journalists on the trip from Africa back to Rome, a reporter pointed out to Pope Francis that “In Uganda alone there were 135,000 new infections of HIV, in Kenya it’s worse. It’s the greatest cause of death in Africa.” He asked the pope, “Is it not time for the Church … to allow the use of condoms to prevent more infections?” Francis responded by changing the subject.

Yet Pope Francis casts himself in the role of a great “liberal” in opposition to his “closed-hearted” prelates.

“The synod of the media has already toppled the real one. It doesn’t matter how it actually ends. World public opinion has already formulated its verdict,” Sandro Magister, one of “the most reliable and revered Vatican reporters,” noted before the synod ended. He continued:

The secret of his communication success is Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s exquisite ability to play on two registers. Between the synod of 2014 and this one of 2015 Francis chalked up more than fifty public statements perfectly in line with the traditional doctrine of the Church: against “gender” ideology [pope-speak for opposition to same-sex marriage], against the divorced and remarried who “demand” communion, and even in favor of an old forgotten virtue like chastity before marriage. “Catholic doctrine is not to be touched,” he repeated at the opening of this synod …
This twofold effect in the media, of silence and fanfare, is something Bergoglio is aware of and wants.

The divergence in this pontificate is whether prelates should, like the pope, sound more pastoral while never even suggesting any meaningful change in Church doctrine, or should they speak of “the great strength of the Church as its certainty, coherence and immutability” as the traditionalist Thompson prefers.

The “pastors” and traditionalists squared off during the three-week synod on the subject chosen by Pope Francis:  should divorced and remarried (without first obtaining a Church-issued annulment of their previous marriage) Catholics – who, after following a “penitential path” in “consultation with their pastors” – be able to receive communion. This was opposed by traditionalists.

Communion for the divorced and remarried had been, until Pope Francis supported it, an issue of importance only to German bishops. Catholics who have already disobeyed their Church’s ban on remarriage but are obedient by not receiving communion – and who care one way or the other – can only be a relatively small percentage of the faithful.  A poll of German Catholics engaged to be married showed “Church teaching plays almost no role in their lives.”

Yet, as Magister predicted, the pope’s support of this one comparatively inconsequential subject was sufficient for the media to proclaim his “revolutionary style” as “more merciful and less judgmental,”  “providing greater pastoral flexibility” and “making the Church more inclusive” in reporting his Oct. 24 speech.

Traditionalists were upset even before the synod began because Pope Francis had stacked the deck against them. He declared his own prior speeches to be the guidelines for the upcoming discussions.  He chose the synod organizers and the clerics who would write the official report. He added his own selection of attendees to those delegated by their national episcopal conferences. All the pope’s men were “pastors”.

Recognizing that “only the pope’s voice will be heard,” traditionalist Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, “has spoken about the risk of a schism.” The “pastoral” Cardinal Walter Kasper “emphasized that ‘a pragmatic schism’ is already underway.”  Vatican reporter Andrea Gagliarducci continued: “Pope Francis’ much-touted popularity is a smokescreen. The real discussion is taking place behind the newspaper and magazine covers dedicated to the pope. And it is also beyond the words inaccurately attributed to him.” In fact, “none of the bishops denies the need for pastoral care. But bishops are extraordinarily united in requesting a clear doctrine.”

“Communication is one of the main concerns of this pontificate. It was so during this synod.” In previous pontificates, however, “there were less opportunities to manipulate them,” according to Gagliarducci.

The American Vatican reporter, John L. Allen Jr., explained:

The dirty little secret is that we’re not really covering the synod at all. For the most part, we’re covering people telling us about the synod, which is an entirely different enterprise. To actually cover the synod would mean being inside the hall during the discussions, being able to develop our own impressions of what’s being said, to gauge the reaction, to watch body language and intonation and atmosphere, and to get an overall sense of emerging themes for ourselves …

To plug the informational vacuum, there are media briefers in each of the main languages who sit in a special gallery during the synod meetings and who come to the Vatican Press Hall afterwards to provide an overview of what they’ve heard, without attributing individual points to specific speakers.

Fr. Thomas Rosica, a Francis-appointee,  was the official liaison at the synod for the English-language media. While he “tweeted-out” messages from pastoral prelates and commentators, he blocked traditionalists from his Twitter feed, adding further to their hard feelings.

At the close of the synod, the bishops voted on ambiguous language about communion for the remarried which settled nothing.

There had been almost no discussion about whether homosexuals should feel more “welcomed” by the Church as had taken place during the 2014 synod. The 2015 synod affirmed “that there is no foundation whatsoever to … establish an even remotely analogous correspondence between homosexual unions and God’s plan for marriage and the family.”

The attendees also voted for their choices to a council who would help prepare for the next synod. Traditionalist prelates Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, Robert Sarah of Guinea, Wilfrid Fox Napier of South Africa and the Australian George Pell received the largest number of votes.

In his Oct. 24 speech closing the synod, Pope Francis also mentioned the indissolubility of marriage (the Church recognizes there are civil reasons to divorce but Catholics are forbidden to remarry) and “defending the family from all ideological and individualistic assaults” (more pope-speak for opposing same-sex marriage). However, his harsh language towards traditionalists made the headlines: “Pope, ending synod, excoriates bishops with ‘closed hearts’” – “Pope Francis takes swipe at conservative bishops as synod on families ends.”

“In his final address … the implication was clear. Clergy who wholeheartedly supported the communion ban were Pharisees to Francis’s Jesus. The pope was sending coded insults to at least half the world’s bishops,” Thompson wrote. Also, the pope “is acting like a politician, picking fights with opponents, tantalizing the public with soundbites [although] he has yet to articulate a coherent program of change and it’s not clear that he is intellectually equipped to do so.”

Another traditionalist from The American Spectator remarked:

The speech was notable for its nastiness, displaying the very lack of charity he routinely assigns to conservatives … Well, say the pope’s desperate propagandists, Francis may not possess a deep mind but at least he has a big heart. If so, it seems to bleed for everyone but orthodox Catholics, whose fidelity to the faith under secularism’s ceaseless encroachments is treated with contempt.

The Remnant, an almost 50-year-old traditionalist newspaper, called for the pope to resign.

Even a  middle-of-the-road Catholic journal criticized the speech. From Commonweal:

It was a [condescending] address lacking in generosity and even fairness. [The pope] failed to acknowledge that those who disagree with him might be acting in good faith, that they might be wrong but not pharisaic. Christian unity … rules out ad hominem attacks in the name of mercy, exclusion in the name of inclusion. It rules out partisanship and stigmatizing … The Synod on the Family, of all topics, should have been more transparent, inclusive, and accountable from the outset. These failures were entirely avoidable … Francis’s gratuitous rhetoric does not allay fears that the deck has been – and will be – stacked against those who might disagree with him.

Thompson asked the important question. Pope Francis “knew that most bishops at this year’s synod wanted to uphold the communion ban. So why did he insist that they debate the subject, given that they were never going to vote his way? Senior cardinals were baffled – and angry that a synod on the worldwide crisis in family life would be dominated by squabbling on this one issue.”

Because Pope Francis would like to be perceived as the Great Reformer, wanting to move the Church in progressive directions but is  obstructed by his “enemies.”

“There are numerous testimonies from longtime acquaintances of Bergoglio who have described him as a ‘chess player,’ a refined strategist, whose every day is perfectly organized and every move carefully studied,” noted  Magister.

Pope Francis uses the populist mantle to be a player in international geopolitics as the ultimate “moral authority.” He was prepared to make an “intervention” at the Paris climate talks. He was lauded for a hosting a meeting between Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas comparable to Camp David.   He was hailed for his “major diplomatic achievement” by “ending more than five decades of hostilities” and “restoring relations between the US and Cuba,” although President Obama began the process by easing limits on travel restrictions and remittances to Cuba in April 2009  and supporting legislation lifting the embargo.

Thompson noted that “after the chaos of the last month, the faith of loyal Catholics is being tested to the breaking point.”

Pope Francis doesn’t care if he alienates traditionalists even though they are the ones who remained steadfast as practicing Catholics throughout the scandals resulting in hundreds of thousands of sexual abuse victims and in spite of continuing clerical sex abuse  and  the pope being “either unable or unwilling to do more than just talk about the problem.”

Nor does he care that his pontificate hasn’t reversed the decades-long decrease in the number of practicing Catholics around the world. (The media report the Church is growing  in sub-Saharan Africa,  but “the Christian share of the region’s population is expected to decline by 2050.”) All he needs is enough bodies in the pews to legitimately claim the title of “religious leader.”

“The pope is so fond of using those words, collegiality and synodality – working together as colleagues in the direction of what’s best for the Church,” Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier observed.

But there is another Catholic civil war, the one between Pope Francis and his Curia (the Vatican bureaucracy) which could be far more damaging. As shown by two recent books about financial corruption during his reign, the pope’s employees are capable of revealing even more fraud,  theft and scams by the men he has appointed.

(Betty Clermont is author of The NeoCatholics: Implementing Christian Nationalism in America)

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2 Responses

  1. This scum belongs in a prison cell, along with the rest of hte Pedophile Pimp Cardinals, Bishops and Archbishops, awaiting execution, for their Crimes Against Humanity, Crimes Against the Children of the World and for over 2,000 counts of First Degree Murder in relation to all the victims of this cult who have committed suicide.

  2. jesus said “let your yes be yes and your no be no”.. the Jesuits say “let your no be yes and your yes be no
    once I got the difference between the teachings of Christ and the twisted pope and catholic church.. I stopped listening to the pope and and his men and women and PR people and media ..

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