I try my best to refrain from commenting on the words and antics of Pope Francis. My weak heart can only take so much. Today’s breaking news (H/T Rorate Caeli) that Papa Frank will take part in a “common worship service” (whatever that means) in October to help kickoff a yearlong commemoration of the Reformation should be unsurprising to those who have bothered to pay attention to the ways and means of this pontificate. Whatever Francis is interested in, it has very little to do with the Catholic Faith, either as it was maintained and promoted before the Second Vatican Council or even what was popularly held by conservative Catholics up to the abdication of Benedict XVI. Some may cite John Paul II’s imprudent and scandalous Assisi gathering as the precedent for Francis’s upcoming actions, but I would argue that we are a long way from there. John Paul II and, to a greater extent Benedict XVI, “learned their lesson” from the first Assisi gathering, though their well-intentioned (albeit deeply misguided) pursuit of religious peace never allowed either to fully denounce such gatherings. In the case of Francis, it is becoming increasingly difficult to shake the notion that what he is after is not so much religious harmony but an eradication of all meaningful distinctions between the various Christian (and perhaps non-Christian) confessions out there. To be Catholic, to be Orthodox, to be Anglican, to be Lutheran, and so forth is all “fine” so long as one is “Christian” in some vague, open-ended sense. And, heck, even if one is not “Christian” in a vague, open-ended sense, you’re still “ok” as long as you “follow your conscience.” Truth be told, I can’t think of a more conscientious and committed religious movement on the planet than the Islamic State; their eternal reward will surely be great.
I don’t know how much control individuals have over whether or not to be scandalized by papal missteps, but to the extent that you can suppress it, please do. There’s nothing for it. While entire websites are now devoted to lamenting Pope Francis and the Church’s heterodox hierarchy, I don’t see the point in paying them too much mind. One needn’t peruse exhaustive commentaries on what some pope in the 19th Century said as opposed to what this pope is saying to figure out that something is amiss. Even the Eastern Orthodox, who are generally ill-disposed toward Catholicism (or at least their idea of Catholicism), are starting to realize that something is rotten in Rome, and it’s not just the filioque. It doesn’t take much searching to find Orthodox commentary on the fragile “Great and Holy Council” which points to the Catholic experience of the last 50 years as a dire warning against trying to adjust to the times or become more open to “the world.” The Catholic Church is a real mess and it’s only going to get messier in the decades to come. Contrary to the opinion of some, no prelate from Africa will save Catholicism at this point in history, at least not without the assistance of divine intervention.
It’s understandable that people don’t want to think about this. Life is rough or, I should say, it’s rough trying to have a good bourgeois lifestyle going while being a good Catholic. If one is so inclined to privilege the latter over the former, then it’s going to be even harder to endure the chants and taunts of the world. Why suffer for a confession that its leaders don’t appear to take seriously? Why worry about the particulars of some tenet or another of Catholic morality and discipline when “equally good” and “equally salvific” Christian bodies pay them absolutely no mind? If it is no longer permissible to hold that the Catholic Church is the sole gateway to Heaven, then there is little point in being Catholic beyond cultural, aesthetic, historical, etc. reasons. I remain unconvinced that any of those reasons are essentially “good reasons,” though I understand that some may hold that they are about as serviceable as any other excuse. After all, many people hold to what they do for reasons that are neither honorable nor intellectually defensible.
In the past I have upset some readers by hinting that I would never encourage a seeking soul to enter the Catholic Church these days. Upon reflection, I was wrong to tease such a radical position even if it’s not inconsistent with the marching orders being handed out from the Vatican these days. At the same time it is hard for me to strongly advocate for anyone to become Catholic if I already have a pretty good sense that within a year or two they will be so distraught that their only sane option left is Scientology. Realizing this, I am now inclined to casually ignore any and all requests for ecclesiastical advice or, if something must be said, rely on a pro-wrestling metaphor.