February 28, 2017, Tuesday — “Not flesh and blood”

“Francis received in audience this morning… – H. E. Abp. Guido Pozzo, Titular Archbishop of Bagnoregio, Secretary of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei…” —from the official Vatican Press Office Bulletin of February 27, 2017, that is, yesterday (link); Archbishop Guido Pozzo, the head of the Vatican’s Ecclesia Dei Commission, has said that Rome’s decision to offer a Personal Prelature to the Society of St. Pius X is imminent; it may be that the decision was discussed, and taken, yesterday by Pope Francis at this meeting; such an action, if accepted by the Society, would bring an end to the one official “schism” since the Second Vatican Council and bring back into full union with Rome a vigorous group of tradition-minded Catholics who number 3 bishops, some 600 priests, and an estimated 600,000 faithful worldwide (link). So, this small bit of “news” in the Vatican press bulletin could signal a landmark moment in Church history, and in the history of this pontificate

“Over the last few years defenders of life and family have tried to give Pope Francis the benefit of the doubt, but every new scandal raises further questions about the motivations of those who now hold key positions of power in Rome. In an interview with our news service, Population Bomb author Paul Ehrlich told us he was ‘thrilled’ with the direction Pope Francis is taking the Catholic Church. Yet just a few years ago Ehrlich stated that ‘the Pope and many of the bishops are one of the truly evil, regressive forces on the planet’ because of the Church’s opposition to contraception. Ehrlich has changed none of his positions in that time.” —John-Henry Westen of, protesting the decision of the leadership of the Vatican’s Academy of Social Sciences to invite American author Paul Ehrlich to speak at a Vatican February 27-March 1 conference on biological extinction. Ehrlich spoke yesterday (link)

“The nuptial character of the usus antiquior [Editor’s note: the “older use,” meaning the old rite of the Mass] is manifest through the ‘lingering in love’ of the rich, sacred texts. Those who are in love desire to be together and do not want to leave each other’s company. In a similar way, when we attend the sacred liturgy, we should be ready and willing to lavish everything upon God and spend as much time with Him as possible.” —Veronica A. Arntz (link), essay on the Tridentine rite of the Catholic liturgy (the “old Mass” now called “the Extraordinary Form” though for centuries it was simply the ordinary Mass), posted on the Rorate Caeli website and scheduled to be published in the upcoming issue of Inside the Vatican magazine (which may be subscribed to here). If the Pope grants a Personal Prelature to the Society of St. Pius X, it seems likely that the old rite of the Mass — which the Society priests celebrate exclusively — will be far more visible in the universal Church. I will send the complete essay by Arntz in an upcoming email

“Perhaps it would be a good thing if every Christian, certainly if every priest, could dream once in his life that he were Pope, and wake from that nightmare in a sweat of agony.” — + Msgr. Ronald Knox

“For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood; but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places.” — St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians 6:12

“Not flesh and blood”: What is the true narrative of the pontificate of Pope Francis?

By Robert Moynihan

What is Pope Francis doing?

And why is he doing it?

The striking characteristic of this pontificate, now about to complete its 4th year, has been the praise it has received from “the world.”

The world’s media have never ceased to praise Francis from the moment of his election.

At the same time, many in the more “traditional” Catholic media have increasingly become critical of Pope Francis.

The mainstream global media have praised Francis for “breaking with (hidebound, rigorist) Church tradition.”

They have said that this “break” consists of his emphasis on “mercy” (for sinners) and “charity” (for the poor, and for the planet itself) over against the more traditional focus on “repentance” (from sin, with a purpose of amendment) and on seeking to become “holy” (to live in a state of profound mystical communion with God, a state of communion which once was spoken of as a “state of grace,” implying a state of communion as well with the entire created world).

And the traditional Catholic have blamed Pope Francis for precisely this same alleged shift in emphasis.

So both the secular media and the traditional Catholic media have agreed on “the narrative” of a Pope breaking dramatically with tradition.

Yet this accepted narrative misses something important.

First, it misses the fact that there always was in the Catholic tradition a profound emphasis on God’s mercy, and on the need to be charitable, to perform works of mercy, to “let one’s light shine before men” and not simply accept the evils and injustices of the world.

The fruit of this? The universities, hospitals, hospices, schools, clinics of Christian culture, up to and including the houses of Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

So it is clear that this was in the tradition all along.

And that, in emphasizing this aspect of the tradition, Francis is not breaking with the broad tradition, but stressing an aspect of that tradition.

Second, it misses the fact that Francis has always characterized himself as a “son of the Church,” not a stranger, a “rupturer.”

And he has always maintained — in keeping with Church tradition and doctrine — that the Church is something different from other human institutions, something much more than “another NGO” (non-governmental organization).

Moreover, it seems clear that Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, who still lives in the Vatican Gardens, and who is aware of much that Francis has said and done, has never indicated publicly in any way that Francis has gone “off the reservation,” has gone “too far,” something Benedict in theory could do if the situation were one of dramatic rupture with traditional Church doctrine.

So there is something inadequate about this dominant, widely accepted narrative.

And this dominant, widely accepted narrative has led us, today, to the verge of schism, to the verge of the breaking of the public unity of the Church — which is one of the signs of the true Church recited in the Creed (“one, holy, catholic and apostolic”).

A very cleverly woven web, indeed, a web woven as if by an enemy of the Church… indeed, as if woven by a sort of “superhuman” intelligence, by a “power” or “principality” not of flesh and blood….


Things that don’t fit…

The brokenness of the narrative, the inadequacy of the narrative, is shown strikingly, among other evidences, by the Pope’s apparent decision — expected to be made public any day now — to welcome back into full communion with Rome the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), whose hundreds of thousands of members are among the strictest, most ardent adherents of traditional Catholicism in the world…

Francis could just allow the SSPX to languish “outside” of the Church, where their lack of official sanction surely cripples their ability to manuever and expand. Yet he seems to be prepared to cast the protective mantle of the Church over the Society. Why?

How can this fit in with a theory of Francis as someone who is breaking with the Church’s past?

On the eve of Ash Wednesday and Lent 2017 — 100th anniversary of the Fatima apparitions and of the Russian revolution — this is the pressing question.

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday. Lent begins.

An appropriate time to enter the “desert” of the senses, and to reflect on our predicament.

Today is the 4th anniversary of the departure from the Vatican, via helicopter, of Pope Benedict XVI, who flew to Caste Gandolfo, having abdicated the public exercise of the Petrine ministry to which he was elected on April 19, 2005, nearly eight year prior.

I saw him depart that day. And I, like so many others, felt his departure as a moment of sorrow, because I had known the man, and did not understand his decision, the deep reasons for it, nor its ultimate meaning, the deep significance of his resignation. So I was confused.

And I saw Francis come out on the balcony of St. Peter’s on March 13, 2013, the evening of his election, to greet a world waiting to know what kind of a Pope would follow the German theologian who had taken the unprecedented decision to step down.

Four years have passed by.

And though we have all seen the unfolding of a carefully-crafted narrative of a “rogue Pope” who breaks with all prior Church tradition — to the almost unanimous praise of the global media — there is something wrong with this narrative.

The narrative is, as we used to say “a bubble off,” referring to the level we used to place on the floor boards to see whether they were even or slightly tilted one way or the other.

It is hard to put one’s finger on the problem, precisely.

There have been many startling off-the-cuff remarks, a number of opinions expressed that clearly are in the realm of the debatable, not of doctrine, and some pastoral recommendations that, problematically, seem to bring into question well-established doctrinal truths. (Here is a chronology of events since April of 2016, the month Amoris Laetitia was released, prepared by someone deeply concerned about the direction of the pontificate: link).

But there are conflicting remarks.

For example, the favorable citations of Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson’s The Lord of the World (Benson warns of the danger of an eloquent, attractive, humanistic “anti-Christ” figure being elected president of the world, to much public acclaim).

How could a Pope who cites Benson favorably not be aware that there are “anti-Christs” today who wish to present a watered-down faith which is in effect an apostasy?

Then there is the Pope’s personal piety.

I myself have witnessed this first-hand, staying in the Domus Santa Marta, where Pope Francis lives, on a number of occasions since his election, and so able to see him and observe him in his private life.

One constant is his recourse to prayer.

In the summer of 2013, I stayed in the Domus with my sons in July, after the trip to Brazil. On one occasions, the four of us — the Pope, my two sons, and myself — were together in the Domus chapel after Mass for a quarter hour, in silent prayer. When the three of us went out (to allow Francis some time of privacy), he continued to pray for another quarter hour, while we waited outside.

And in January, just six weeks ago, one evening at dinner, Francis left the dining hall. I thought he was going up to his room. But a half hour later, I saw him come out the chapel — he had gone there to pray before going up to his room for the night.

In the chapel at the Domus, the Eucharist is kept perpetually, and the red lamp with its flickering candle burns (yes, I am referring to the prophetic words of Pope Pius XII).

So the Domus chapel is an adoration chapel.

How does one reconcile and explain the seemingly contradictory words and actions of this Pope?

Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the papal nuncio in Washington, after having been the papal nuncio to Israel, once told me this story: “When Pope John Paul II came to a church, he liked to greet as many of the faithful as possible, who had waited so long to see him,” Sambi said. “So his habit was to go up the main aisle greeting people on his left, and to come back down the other side of the aisle greeting and shaking hands with those on the right side. But on one occasion he was told there would not be enough time to go up and back, that he would have to leave from the front of the church. So, his advisors said, he needed to choose one side or the other as he walked down the main aisle. John Paul stood silently for a moment, then began to move. And he walked down the very center of the aisle, reaching out his hands to both sides, touching mean and women and children on both sides, until he reached the front of the church.”

And what John Paul did, all Popes must do…

In my next email, I will consider several theories which attempt to explain what Francis is doing and why.

(to be continued)

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What is the glory of God?

“The glory of God is man alive; but the life of man is the vision of God.” —St. Irenaeus of Lyons, in the territory of France, in his great work Against All Heresies, written c. 180 A.D.

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