In 2022, the many crises facing the Church and world — from confusion regarding Church doctrine to the conflict in Ukraine — seem to be intensifying. In response, Church leaders are pointing to some “hard truths”
By Robert Moynihan, Ph.D.
“What we are seeing [in Ukraine] is the brutality and ferocity with which this war is being carried out by the troops, generally mercenaries, used by the Russians… But the danger is that we only see this, which is monstrous, and miss the whole drama that is unfolding behind this war, which was perhaps somehow either provoked or not-prevented. Someone may say to me at this point: but you are pro-Putin! No, I am not. It would be simplistic and erroneous to say such a thing. I am simply against turning a complex situation into a distinction between good guys and bad guys, without considering the roots and self-interests, which are very complex.” —Pope Francis, in a conversation with Jesuit magazine editors in Rome on May 19, 2022, published on the Vatican website on June 15 under the title “Pope: ‘War cannot be reduced to distinction between good guys and bad guys’”
“In the proper sense of the word, the Pope is the man in the Church with the least power. In the proper sense of the word, he is the one who must be most obedient.” —Bishop Athanasius Schneider, in his new interview-book with Polish writer Paweł Lisicki, The Springtime That Never Came (2022)
In Rome, at the start of summer of 2022, there are numerous signs we are entering a time of transition.
Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican Secretary of State for 14 years (1991-2005) under Pope John Paul II, passed away on May 27 at the age of 94. (See p. 26) And Don Gino Belleri, owner of the Leoniana Bookstore just behind the Vatican Press Office, who knew almost everyone in Rome from the 1960s until today — so that he became a precious resource and advisor to many Vatican journalists — died on May 16 at age 93. (See p. 28)
Pope Francis, now 85, canceled scheduled papal trips to Leb anon in June (see p. 12) and central Africa in July, due to health problems. And began appearing publicly in a wheelchair. And, abruptly, at the end of May called for a consistory to be held on August 27 to create 21 new cardinals. (See p. 18) And, that same day, announced he would make a trip to Aquila, Italy, on August 28, to visit the tomb of St. Celestine V, the Pope who in 1294 resigned the papal throne. This set off a flurry of speculation that Francis may intend to resign as did Benedict (Benedict visited Celestine’s tomb in 2009, four years before he resigned in 2013). Many Vatican observers, however, say Francis will “never resign.” Time will tell…
Amid these signs of transition, one thing is clear: Francis is deeply concerned about the war in Ukraine — and about the “black and white” way (see opening quote above) in which blame for the war has been apportioned by most of the Western press.
This call of the Pope for a “balanced” assessment of blame for the Ukraine conflict is raising eyebrows. Why? Because it seems to contrast with the way Francis has offered unswerving support for other narratives associated with the great issues of our time, from “climate change” to the vaccine mandates in connection with the Covid crisis. Yet, with regard to the Ukraine war, Francis is calling for distinctions to be made, for judgments to be withheld until all the facts are fully considered. In this, Francis is stating a “hard truth” — that it is necessary to have adequate, reliable information about the facts of any situation before coming to a judgment of blame for actions taken. And he is right to do this.
Within the Church, there has been a growing tendency to divide Catholics into “good guys” and “bad guys” in terms of their attitude toward Church tradition. In fact, in his same May 19 interview with the Jesuit editors, Francis said: “Restorationism has come on the scene to gag the Council. The number of ‘restorationist’ groups… there are many in the United States… is staggering… They never accepted the Council… The problem is precisely this.”
Francis in these words seems to be dividing the Church into two groups: those who accept the Council, and those who, he says, reject it. But this, like the apportioning of blame for the Ukraine war, is an oversimplification. The problem is that, as Pope Benedict XVI clearly taught, to interpret the Council correctly, and then accept it correctly, we must see (again quoting Pope Francis) “the whole drama that is unfolding behind.”
There was an attempt made at the Council and after the Council to spark a revolutionary change in the Church, in her doctrine and liturgy, in order to adapt her to “the modern world.”
And there has been an effort to restrain this attempt, to maintain the Church’s fidelity to perennial doctrine.
This is why Pope Benedict has come to teach that there were, in fact, “two Councils”: one the Council “as it was” and the other the Council “of the journalists,” who depicted the Council as a revolution successfully overturning perennial Church doctrine.
So there is a second “hard truth,” a truth Francis up to now has not seemed to perceive as a compelling one, that the Church cannot change her fundamental teaching, only defend it.
This second “hard truth” is being expressed eloquently today by Bishop Athanasius Schneider, 61. Schneider is of German background, but he was born and raised in the USSR, so he is a man who experienced Communism in his youth.
In his second interview-book, The Springtime That Never Came, in conversation with Polish writer Paweł Lisicki (Sophia, 2021), which has just appeared, Schneider says that to call Catholics who adhere to past teaching “opposed to the Council” is inaccurate, because the Fathers themselves at the Council were seeking to “open to the modern world” but not to change doctrine.
So Schneider is to be lauded for speaking a second “hard truth”: that many today “want a different, new Christianity, different from the one Jesus brought, the one handed down by the apostles” — a Christianity “that will allow sin, won’t care about truth, won’t defend it, and won’t speak out against error or falsehood.” And Schneider concludes: “Ideally, he [the Pope] is the one who must show the greatest fidelity to the deposit handed down to him by his predecessors… And he must continue to pass it on to those who will come after him without violating, distorting, or destroying it.”