The current regime in Rome will damage the Catholic Church. Pope Francis combines laxity and ruthlessness. His style is casual and approachable; his church politics are cold and cunning. There are leading themes in this pontificate—mercy, accompaniment, peripheries, and so forth—but no theological framework. He is a verbal semi-automatic weapon, squeezing off rounds of barbed remarks, spiritual aperçus, and earthy asides (coprophagia!). This has created a confusing, even dysfunctional atmosphere that will become intolerable, if it hasn’t already.
Every pope sets a particular tone, a party line. Benedict made no secret of his desire for the Church to recover the dignity and transcendent orientation of the old ways of worship. But he was measured and never denounced or insulted those who prefer guitars and casual liturgies. St. John Paul II’s great intellectual project was to redeem the promise of mid-century Catholicism’s turn toward cooperation with secular humanism. He sought to fuse the modern turn to the subject and freedom with a full-spectrum affirmation of the doctrinal tradition. One can judge his project a success or a failure, but it is beyond dispute that his intention was to span the gap between today’s individual-oriented ethos and Catholicism’s theocentrism.
Pope Francis, by contrast, is quick to denounce, widening gaps rather than closing them. More often than not, he targets the core Catholic faithful. He regularly attacks “mummified” Christians and “rosary counters.” On many occasions, Francis has singled out doctrinally orthodox priests for ridicule. The same holds for those who favor the Latin Mass, whom he derides as suffering from a “rigidity” born of “insecurity.” Early in his pontificate, his Christmas sermon to the curia recited a litany of condemnations.
Francis expresses little sympathy or support for regular Mass-goers and the men laboring in parish ministry. “Go to the peripheries!” That’s one of his signature exhortations. In practice, that has meant neglecting (if not attacking) bishops, priests, and laity who do the ordinary work of sustaining the Church’s institutions and traditions.
In November, Francis intervened to prevent the bishops in the United States from taking decisive action to address their failure to hold one another accountable. Meanwhile, it appears that the Vatican has come to an agreement with the Chinese government to regularize the underground Church in that country. The deal seems to allow communist bureaucrats to play an integral role in the selection of bishops.
The contrast is shocking. On the one hand, the pope slaps down men who have devoted their lives to the Church and proven their loyalty over decades of service. On the other hand, he is solicitous of the interests of commissars and accommodates them, even to the point of suspending one of the most important canonical principles of modern Catholicism, designed to protect the Church against secular control.
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