It was reported that Michael B. Dougherty's article on the shrinking papacy of Pope Francis was greeted with howls of disapproval to the tune of 'You can't say that!' and 'Respect, please!' from various quarters. Fr James Martin S.J, for one, stepped up to call for 'respect', presumably offended by the coarse language used in the following excerpt from Doughterty's piece for the National Review. Not that the language was as coarse as some Bergoglian anecdotes available on public record. No doubt Dougherty's really offensive passage was this one:
Simply put, we don’t have to listen to popes when they are talking out of their rear ends. What Francis describes as an orderly procession of liturgical reform in the 20th century will very likely one day be seen as one of the greatest spams of iconoclasm in the history of Christianity. And the fact that Francis is so wrong on this, as on many other things, will, one hopes, break the exaggerated papal cult once and for all. This period of time in the Church, in which its lay intellectuals and bishops turn almost exclusively to recent papal utterances rather than to Scripture and the doctors of the Church, will one day look very unusual. In God’s permissive will, and in his Providence, Pope Francis is hastening that day. For that I’m grateful.
Dougherty's article is aimed at the dreadful cult of personality which has taken on new degrees of exaggeration under Francis. I wrote a few months ago that this pontificate suffered something of a credibility deficit because of the strange sayings of the occupant of the Chair of St Peter and that Francis's credibility was seriously waning because of his behaviour, even if the authority accorded to him as Pope remained. Over time, however, we are seeing not just a credibility gulf opening up, but an authority problem arising as well, a problem that has nothing to do with the powers of the Office with which Pope Francis has been entrusted but to do with the nature of this Office.
Quite simply the Office carries spiritual, moral and teaching responsibilities and lays these responsibilities upon the man himself. The whole Office of the Papacy is bound up with moral teaching (not simply sudden political, economic, social or environmental ejaculations of private thought made public) as well as teaching on matters of Faith. These two areas are sadly lacking in Francis's priorities and are passed over nearly completely unless we are to call expressions of solidarity for migrants or care for the Earth moral teaching or even Francis's quite extrarodinary Magisterium. Therefore, it is understandable that when a man departs from the duties of his state of life - teaching Christian faith and morals - that is - Christian faith and morals rather than his own private opinions - people cannot take his invoking of 'magisterial authority' terribly seriously.
I've read before that many, in hindsight, while admiring St John Paul II's rise as a global Pope, his combative attitude towards Communism and his rigorous defence of the family, express concern with how 'mega' the papacy became under the Polish Pope and how the personality of the Successor of St Peter became such a dominant feature in the life of the Church. Benedict XVI's quiet strength and determination was welcomed in such quarters with even the Pope himself expressing in public the limitations placed upon the Supreme Pontiff in his teaching and strengthening role. If anyone distrusted the cult of personality, or the potential trappings of his Office, it was Benedict XVI. Thankfully, St John Paul II's charismatic presence, his travels to many and varied countries and his gift for communication were all utilised to great effect in the fight against evil. The problem comes when a Pope takes to himself every possible means of communication to great effect in a way that begins to undermine or discredit the message of the Gospel. The problem comes when a Pope opens his mind on any and every subject matter other than that which is his main responsibility to teach - the Christian Faith!
|The Extraordinary Magisterium of Pope Francis|
Unfortunately for Pope Francis, the unanswered dubia - along with the unanswered doorbell when Cardinal Burke calls - places in huge crisis the moral authority of Pope Francis. Quite simply, if a Pope decides to cease from teaching the Christian Faith as we have hitherto known it, in all its doctrinal fullness and clarity, just how seriously can the Faithful take the invoking of magisterial authority. Sorry if this offends people, but the outpourings of Pope Francis's private thoughts, through interviews, speeches, homilies, his incredible lexicon of insulting terms aimed at priests, bishops, cardinals, laity and even nuns cannot be described as evidence of Christian teaching.
Such bile, streaming like a torrent near daily, flooding the Church with invective mean that while Pope Francis may find his magisterial authority convenient for those times when he wishes to stamp out enthusiasm for the traditional Latin Mass or the promotion of liturgy which places reverence for Christ and His Sacrifice at the centre, he should not be too surprised when the faithful laugh because on the Christian Faith itself this Pope is largely silent.
Satirists have wasted no time in sending up the pompous nature of this pontificate, its glaring theological inconsistencies and embarrassing deviations from Christ's truth. The presence of the unanswered dubia continues to lay bare the reality of the most vacuous pontificate in living memory, long on public relations overkill, but short on Christian teaching, a pontificate that treats Faith like a form of leprosy. Perhaps that is why he doesn't want to meet Cardinal Burke and the remaining dubia Cardinals, but will meet just about anybody else.
Future Popes (if God gives us them) take note: If you want to be taken seriously, don't turn your pontificate into a running joke. If you want to be taken seriously, sheer power, even your authority, will not suffice if you don't understand what your Office requires of you. If you wish to be taken seriously, take Jesus Christ seriously! Your credibility will suffer if you do not and if you distance yourself from Christ, your authority, which rests on your moral and spiritual authority will quietly dwindle before it quietly ebbs away, however loud your voice is raised! If you don't want to be considered, 'wrong on so many things' by Catholics in magazines, newspapers and blogs, teach those things about which you can only be right - the Catholic Faith! The authority of each Pope, moral, spiritual and teaching, rests on Jesus Christ, not on yourself.
The Magisterium of Pope Francis, therefore, seems to me to be eminently reversible because anything that can find no basis within Scripture and Holy Tradition can and should and most likely will in future be thoroughly dismissed. Papal opinion is not papal teaching and the dubia is a constant reminder to all observers that, on Faith and morals at least, Francis does not wish to crystallise his teachings. Anything which pertains to the true expression of Christian faith and Christian morals can, of course be retained, but unfortunately for Francis, examples of this are few and far between. For 1,500 years or more, the Catholic liturgy was considered "irreversible". Then along came Vatican II. The liturgical reforms which came to be considered mandatory in the 70s were considered "irreversible" and then along came...
Popes have a degree of latitude in governing the Church of now. The Church of the future, however, regardless of a Pope's stratospheric ambitions is another matter altogether.