Douthat’s lament: Francis “must have known that it did not have to be this way”

To Change the Church: Pope Francis and the Future of Catholicism seeks to make sense of a pontificate that began with great promise but has now, after five years, deepened division, caused confusion, and “undercut the quest for the common ground.”

(Images: www.simonandschuster.com, Wikipedia)

Looking at the wreckage of the mainline Protestant denominations in Europe and America, the Church of England’s continuing decline, and the empty pews of lenient Catholic Germany, one has to wonder—simply as a matter of self-preservation—why would Catholic “progressives” (an imprecise but useful shorthand) persist in reforms similar to those that empirically have proven to be disastrous? What is it that drives them to seemingly overturn longstanding Church teachings when similar moves have decimated other Christian communities in the West?

Best-selling author and New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, in To Change the Church: Pope Francis and the Future of Catholicism, does not exactly explain the why, but he does seek to describe how he thinks Francis and his inner circle are trying to effect changes in the fundamental self-understanding of the Church and her teachings. Such changes would be tantamount to the most momentous revolution since the Reformation, and according to Douthat “would make Catholic Christianity open to substantial reinterpretation in every generation, and transform many of its doctrines into the equivalent of a party’s platform or a republic’s constitution – which is to say, binding for the moment but constantly open to revision based on democratic debate.”

Douthat states that now, five years after the surprise abdication of Pope Benedict XVI and the equally surprising election of Jorge Bergoglio to the papacy, “it helps to tell a story about the last fifty years of Catholic history.” And then adds: “So let’s tell three.” Each of the three hinges on a certain understanding and interpretation of Vatican II. First is the “liberal” account: the surprising Council was a watershed whose reforms need to be accelerated and which represents a clear break with a “legalistic,” “pharisaical Church.” The second story, told by “conservatives” asserts that Vatican II was “hijacked by those who favored a simple accommodation to the spirit of the 1960s,” but decline was arrested first by John Paul II and then by Benedict XVI, who affirmed the essential continuity of Catholic doctrine. Douthat, who is one of America’s most astute observers of this pontificate, proposes a third story: an uneasy truce in a time of upheaval, with neither the liberal nor conservative wings fully successful. What was needed was to transcend the old divisions in a world where the Pope was both very strong and very weak in managing a global flock of widely – some would say insurmountable – divergent understandings of the faith.

Douthat is very good at describing the strange situation in which the papacy finds itself, in a technologically connected and media-saturated world. The papacy is now marketed; “each pope is treated not just as the supreme governor of the church but its single embodiment, the Catholic answer to Gandhi or Mandela, the Beatles or the Stones.” This centralization of the papacy and its magnification is in many ways the fault of modern media, which demands simple stories defined by personalities. However, Douthat asserts, conservative Catholics bear some of the blame by their actions, especially during the pontificate of John Paul II. But such centrality—which is distinct in ways from Petrine supremacy—sits uneasily with the bulk of Church history and tradition. Douthat might also have mentioned the loss of strong confessional states, which balanced papal power with their own strong obligations to preserve the faith.

Francis was a surprise and perhaps an opportunity. Coming from the “periphery,” many hoped that he was free of the ideological presuppositions of European and American clerics and old arguments focused on the West to the neglect of the wider Catholic world. He was a pope for the global Church and while his inveighing against ecclesial legalism may have sounded unusual in the West, where excessive legalism was not the problem, perhaps it was not the West he was addressing. His views on the poor and the marginalized, combined with an obvious devotion to Mary and personal piety, might have been just what the Church needed to reach out to both non-Christians as well as Catholics hurt by the sex scandals or who had drifted away from the faith. Douthat spends some time exploring the real appeal of Francis’ message of mercy, and the very Catholic message that all of us are sinners and so must be met where we are. Francis was potentially the great mediator among the Vatican II stories to move the Church into the new age. At least that was the hope.

The book argues that Francis instead quickly became a controversial figure, in part because he clearly sided with the very liberal, largely European wing of the episcopate in a way that seemed designed not only to push that agenda but to criticize and even to shame the more orthodox segments of the faithful. His laudable condemnations of the “throwaway culture” of consumerism included an unsophisticated understanding of modern economics, and his focus on “encounter” with nonbelievers and “mercy” to those within the fold presaged doctrinal vagueness. And he moved deliberately to quell dissent, and indeed to punish those he saw as opponents—his treatment of Cardinal Burke being the most well-known example of several that Douthat recounts. More recently, Francis’ rapprochement with the Chinese Communist State, and the doctoring of a letter from Benedict to make it seem as if the pope emeritus was strongly endorsing Francis’ theology, further make it appear as if the Pope and his advisors are not so much serving as a mediators as acting as revolutionaries.

Francis, however, seemed determined to revisit and even undermine some of the Church’s teachings on sexuality, morality, marriage, and the family. The chapters on the early stages of the Francis papacy, including the chaotic and confused Synod on the Family, are a masterful retelling of this sad episode. Although not an edifying spectacle, it is worth being reminded of the conduct of some of the bishops at the synod, including the not-so-subtle racism of the German bishops toward their more traditional African brethren, the latter facing not just economic modernization and globalization but also a very real threat from Islamic incursions.

Douthat carefully analyzes the arguments for changing the Church’s position on divorce and remarriage, as indicated in Amoris Laetitia and subsequent papal remarks, though he notes that Francis never quite closes the door on any interpretation, preferring a “mess” that is open to various pastoral approaches rather than clear, consistent rules. Douthat notes, in passing, the irony of a Pope not inclined to nuanced theological defenses in his teaching to the people having to rely on what are at times attenuated interpretations of the Gospels from liberal theologians that disregard the continuity of both traditions and Tradition. But he also notes another irony: conservative Catholics with concerns and criticisms of Francis who “backed the strongest possible understanding of papal authority” now faced with constantly being told to obey “the Pope, this Pope, this present Pope…”

And so the Francis era, Douthat suggests, “has made conservative overconfidence of the John Paul II era look foolish in hindsight,” even if “it hasn’t made liberal confidence look justified, or at least not yet.” But it also indicates just how rough the waters have been in the decades following the Council, at a time when both instability and an inclination toward a cult of personality—a dubious but distinctive trait of the past century—blurred the lines between the fallible man and the infallible office.

Over time, Douthat argues, “the papal message has lost any distinctively conservative element, instead offering simply liberalism in theology and left-wing politics—German theological premises, Argentine economics, and liberal-Eurocrat assumptions on borders, nations, and migration.” He fairly and rightly notes that Catholic liberalism is not the same as its Protestant cousin, and so need not lead to the same result as it has in the West—and in a fascinating digression on Jansenism he shows how a liberalizing wing is an important component of Catholic intellectual history. But the tone here is one of lament, and Douthat observes that Francis acted with intentionality in creating what will prove to be a deep and long-lasting crisis, since “he must have known that it did not have to be this way.”

And yet, knowing it did not have to be this way, the pontiff from Argentina did not step away from causing confusion and even crisis. Why? Did he always intend to pursue “a kind of revolution” or has he acted rashly and impatiently, not understanding the consequences? It’s hard, if not impossible, to know. But Francis, Douthat sharply concludes,

has not just exposed conflicts; he has stoked them, encouraging sweeping ambitions among his allies and apocalyptic fears among his critics. He has not just fostered debate; he has taken sides and hurled invective in a way that has pushed friendly critics into opposition, and undercut the quest for the common ground.


To Change the Church: Pope Francis and the Future of Catholicism

by Ross Douthat
Simon and Schuster, 2018
Hardcover, 234 pp.

About Gerald J. Russello 3 Articles
Gerald J. Russello is editor of The University Bookman (www.kirkcenter.org) and editor of two volumes of work by Christopher Dawson.

42 Comments

  1. Over at Fr. Hunwicke’s blog there is a discussion about the specific problem of “infantalization” sometimes resulting from priestly incardination.

    My sense is that infantalization also operates with respect to the distorted “hyper-papalism” that has emerged in the 20th and 21st centuries.

    This distortion of the papacy enables tyrannical conceit, not sober stewardship and shepherding. It engenders blind trust in clericalist authority, instead of authentic trust that comes from recognizing the voice of the Good Shepherd. It worships power and disdains service. It changes the flock into a herd, displaces the shepherd for a rustler, and changes the laity from sheep into cattle.

    This is what results when a Church turns its back on faith and reason, having lost its memory and identity 50 years after turning its back on tradition, which preserves faith and reason.

    • “the Francis era, Douthat suggests, ‘has made conservative overconfidence of the John Paul II era look foolish in hindsight,” even if “it hasn’t made liberal confidence look justified, or at least not yet.'”

      This quote is so true. I recall all the confident bloggers tut-tutting the Episcopal Church as it embraced gay unions, remarking that ‘we have the Magisterium!’ like that guaranteed immunity from modern liquidity. Now we have Jim Martin all but explicitly endorsing the same thing and being promoted by the Vatican. Strange times.

      • I disagree. There was no conservative overconfidence or idolotry of the Pope during the JP II era or the Benedict era. Contrary to what liberals claim, there never was any conservative who claimed that JP II was always right, no matter what he said, simply because he was Pope. Instead, they claimed that he was right because what he said was thoroughly orthodox. Same for Benedict. They were right not because they were Pope, but because what they said was always orthodox.

        • “Contrary to what liberals claim, there never was any conservative who claimed that JP II was always right, no matter what he said, simply because he was Pope.”

          There were times when certain of what I might call “First Things conservatives” – with George Weigel at the head of the list – seemed to come perilously close to that. (I might not call WITNESS TO HOPE a hagiography, but it flirts with it at times.) And if there was “overconfidence,” it wasn’t that all was right once again in the Church, but that the long arc of history had bent decisively in the direction of their narrative, even if the destination had not arrived just yet.

          That narrative increasingly comes in for some reexamination.

  2. “But he also notes another irony: conservative Catholics with concerns and criticisms of Francis who “backed the strongest possible understanding of papal authority” now faced with constantly being told to obey “the Pope, this Pope, this present Pope…””

    I see no irony here. Perhaps I understand the Papacy differently from the way some others do. This article speaks of a “centralization of the Papacy and its magnification” as a recent development that “sits uneasily with the bulk of Church history and tradition.” It seems to me that Peter was pretty central and magnified – and rightly so. Yet he was at many times a very weak and wrong man, who was sometimes roughly rebuked by Jesus and by other apostles. So it has gone with Peter’s successors, more or less, depending upon their individual qualities.

    This taunt to so-called ‘conservative Catholics,’ that their love for and rejoicing in the pontificates of JPII and Benedict XVI somehow divest them of standing to condemn error in all subsequent pontificates is pretty lame. It makes about as much sense as a kid telling his parents he no longer has to mow the lawn, because just this morning they told him they loved him and he was a great kid.

    • yes John from MN, the article in general has this fallacy running through it… a most blessed and fruitful day of Lent, Holy Week, Easter and Divine Mercy to all….

    • I agree. No supporter of JP II or Benedict backed “the strongest possible interpretation of papal authority” It just did not happen. There was no pushing of the notion of papal authority during their pontificates. There was merely the affirming of what they said as RIGHT, because it was orthodox. Liberals don’t get the whole idea of orthodoxy.

    • “This article speaks of a “centralization of the Papacy and its magnification” as a recent development that “sits uneasily with the bulk of Church history and tradition.””

      It’s a development chiefly of the last 150 years or so.

      Papal primacy has been there from the beginning. But there *has* been a major centralization of law, administration, appointments and messaging – centered around the person of the Pope – that simply was not there before the mid-late 19th century.

  3. I’ll take a stab at answering the “why”, because too many bishops and cardinals have been (and are) administrators and/or too attached to the culture/”elite” thinking that surrounds them rather than courageous disciples of Christ. Hence, the clergy scandals and cover ups, bad seminaries, and “innovations”, not to mention a failure to inspire their diocesan flocks to be the courageous disciples this world desperately needs.

  4. Lament doesn’t suffice. Ross Douthat analyzes correctly “That Francis acted with intentionality”. Intention indicates what is not definitively stated. We have an Apostasy moving in the opposite direction of Apostolic Tradition suggested in Amoris and the letters inserted in Acta Apostolicae Sedis declared official Magisterial doctrine by the Pontiff’s Mini-Me Vat Secy of State Cardinal Parolin none of which are definitive binding doctrine but rather further suggestions of intent. The imbroglio over Benedict XVI’s refusal to endorse Pope Francis’ theology involving burlesque revelation of contents charges countercharges dismissal reinstatement indicates both desire for endorsement and implacable “intention” to win the day. The New Paradigm narrative like Lieut Gen von Manstein’s Panzers bursting thru the seemingly ‘impregnable’ Ardennes surprising and routing the Allies has knocked solid Catholic thinkers off their pinions. Douthat knows many have Papolatry Disease and wringing our hands won’t do. We have clear definitive Apostolic Tradition. The Battle Lines have been drawn. We are called to the Front.

  5. Reading this review, I better get Michael Sean Winter’s nasty reaction over at NCR: “You cursed brat! Look what you’ve done!! I’m melting, melting. Ohhhhh, what a world, what a world. Who would have thought that a New York Times columnist could would be the one…”

    • Nice reference!Though I suspect since Formosus was restored to his proper grave that the warning about the end of Stephen VII, the corpse synod pope, who was later more lastingly dishonored, might be more apt.

  6. There’s not much new here in this review (or apparently in the book if this review is accurate). I was hoping to hear about Douthat’s “third story”:the uneasy truce between conservative and progressive and the way to surmount both to bring about orthodoxy. Hopefully, Douthat offers some analysis and prescriptions in his book.

  7. At bottom, its all about Truth – – not conservative truth or liberal truth but The TRUTH.

    As to the why? Conduct a thought experiment: What would the devil do to harm the Church and the faithful? Do you see any similarities from your list and recent activity? We are under attack and have been for some time.
    Pray!

    • Mike, you are bang on here!!!We must get back to the basics and stop naval gazing. This is a battle of principalities that was foretold us in Sacred Scripture. Christ, we must remember has not simply died and risen. The final stage will be his returning as Christ the King. The state of souls in the world, and apostasy must come first before His return and boy do we have apostates! We have a crisis of an impure priesthood and an atheistic society that must be made clean. Christ, who has Dominion over all creation, will come, in His time to make all things new. How many souls will be lost on His return, is partly up to us. Our role is to remain in God’s grace and pray for all those who are far from Him. He will apply those prayers to assist souls who are tumbling around in the darkness. Only the Truth will set each soul free. Watering down truth and creating god in one’s own image and likeness to enable one to live under a false putrid ideology founded by satan will not go well when He returns in all His Magnificence. Those found tearing at the Mystical Body of Christ, His Holy Church will tremble in His sight.

  8. The consequences of ignoring the counsel of Father Kolvenbach in 1991 regarding one Jorge Bergoglio have resulted in the chaos, apostasy and de facto schism we are witnessing firsthand. How ironic that the Peter Principle has manifest itself with the latest successor to Saint Peter.

    The resulting mess that will have to be cleaned up once the current Pontificate ends will rival that of the worst natural disaster ever known to man.

  9. Francis knew, or must have known, the problems he would cause? No. I think he is not an intellectual himself, and he underestimated the number of intellectuals in the Church who would vigorously oppose his attempts at change. He is a typical liberal who hangs out with liberals and doesn’t realize how many of us have no interest in becoming liberals because we can see how destructive and how anti-God the progressive world view is. Francis’s minions in Rome are not smart men, and they don’t understand smart men. They are unable to change the truth with their ideas, so they act like clowns trying to force their liberalization of the Church. There is damage being caused, because we are sheep without a shepherd (very much so in the Catholic Church in the U.S., not just in Rome in general), and that’s a sad position to be in. But we are not letting the Church be taken without a fight, and it’s a fight we’ll eventually win. We have to, because as the article points out, if we lose, the Catholic Church will become as irrelevant as the Church of England, and the gates of hell will have prevailed. In the long run, that’s not going to happen.

    • Sharon:
      Bergoglio’s Vatican gang are not clowns — they’re thugs. (Don’t forget, Bergoglio began his career as a nightclub bouncer, before he became a Jesuit).
      The conduct of this Pontificate has been thuggish from the beginning (I won’t recount here all of the summary sackings and dirty tricks we all have witnessed). In fact, it was a gang of thugs that worked to get Benedict out and Bergoglio in — the St. Gallen Mafia and the Lavender Mafia.

      • Yes, indeed. Thugs, not men of holiness, having no sense of discipline.
        The men surrounding the bishop of Rome I would not invite into my house.

  10. Might one suggest that the current papacy is one that needs rescuing from itself? One word continues to plague this papacy—confusion. That is, the pope seems confused… about his role. Which, if I’m not mistaken, is to preserve undiminished the Catholic Faith, and to strengthen the brethren in this Faith. Pope Francis is our pope. He needs our prayers. He bears a heavy burden. For the sake of his soul and the billion+ souls under his care, he, like us all this Lent, would do well to ponder seriously the four last things.

    This pontificate may not be a full step back (to 1970s goofiness) as much as it is a step sideways when the Church really needs at this time a pontiff who is willing to be absolutely clear about Christ’s teaching and who is willing to lead others forward in faithful witness to the Holy Gospel. Catholics need to say ‘no’ to permissiveness dressed up in slippery pseudo-doctrine. In other words, Catholics must say no to clergy who have missed the lesson taught by the trajectory set forth by Liberal Protestantism, a trajectory that reduces Christianity to a disposable ideal. Ironically, protestants and their liberal Catholic counterparts have forgotten that God makes available His grace to all those who call upon Him to help them grow in holiness. God does not abandon us to, nor does He tolerate, man’s sophistry. Liberal catholicism, like liberal protestantism, is a grace-less religion.

  11. “If the conservatism of John Paul and Benedict led only to Francis, perhaps it didn’t conserve enough; if those popes’ attempted synthesis was so easily challenged and unraveled, perhaps it wasn’t a successful synthesis at all; if their project of restoration still left fertile soil for a new revolution, perhaps the entire project needed to be reassessed” (Ross Douthat To Change the Church). Maike Hickson 1Peter5 makes a powerful argument in respect to actual continuity between Pope Francis and Benedict XVI [inclusive of John Paul II] noted by Douthat that adds an entirely new dimension to the Letter imbroglio and the issue of continuity or discontinuity. And to my own previously held convictions[though many have asserted this on Catholic websites]. There is far more contained in Douthat’s book than thought after reading Rusello’s article. Mrs Hickson quotes Benedict questioning himself whether he contributed to a hegenomic Modernism. She also quotes credentialed theologian Msgr Antonio Livi to support this view. Whatever the motives of the players involved in the letter scandal this news seemingly more real than fake indicates political maneuvering of baiting Benedict to suit their narrative of continuity in change. Lament or no Douthat expresses hope in younger conservative priests restoring faith and doctrine. Needless to say that is impossible without conviction of permanent truth. The Apostolic Tradition unmitigated sans Modernism.

    • Thanks, Father Morello.
      The Hickson piece in 1P5 raises a very disturbing question that many of us have been struggling with (though not publicizing) over the last 5 years. Was,in effect, Ratzinger a kind of Wizard of Oz? Did he, with the best of intentions, execute a virtuoso performance informing the pontificate of JP2, then advancing in his own pontificate, a “continuity” that is chimerical. Make no mistake: I love Ratzinger, advocate for him and read everything I can get my hands on that he writes.
      Under Bergoglio the question seems to have become: Continuity, yes, but continuity with what?

      • Remember, that site is essentially a conspiracy site. They believe that there is a conspiracy about the third secret of Fatima, that Pope Benedict did not respond to their false allegations, and that secret forces control him now. The rather ridiculous claims they make in todays article about how Benedict was responsible for all the ills of the church just reinforces the idea they are a conspiracy web site.

        • I think it’s a stretch to read the Hickson article as saying Benedict “is responsible for all of the ills of the Church”.
          She seems to me to be saying that in their pains to discern “continuity” between the pre- and post-Conciliar Church, JP2 and B16 may have evaded an inevitable “reckoning”. In my opinion, B16 executed an heroic, virtuoso performance trying to hold the Church (including the traditionalists) together. I love Benedict: with him, I venerate Pius XII, Pastor Angelicus, Pope of our youth; and to me, Benedict is Pastor Angelicus, Pope of my old age.
          As for conspiracy theories, I hold no brief for 1P5, but…
          Why has it been such a long and tortuous process to release the full Third Secret of Fatima?
          As for “secret forces” now allegedly controlling Benedict, why not go there? The thuggish modus operandi of the current pontificate positively invites it. Benedict is the prisoner of the Vatican, and Ganswein arguably is his double-agent jail guard.

      • Robert you raise the question many suffer. The best indication of Benedict XVI’s mind is in his Last Testament interview by Peter Seewald. Benedict in response to decentralization, “We need the Petrine Ministry and the service of unity, and we need the responsibility of local churches”; Seewald: So you do not see any kind of break with your pontificate? Benedict: “No. I mean, one can of course misinterpret in places, with the intention of saying that everything has been turned on its head now. There may be a different emphasis, of course, but no opposition”. The remainder of the interview has Benedict praising Francis nonetheless if Benedict didn’t believe the Church isn’t “turned on its head” he would not have said it. Perhaps it’s Freudian. Benedict was strained and labored responding to Seewald. My conviction remains on what Benedict has written prior to has abdication particularly Jesus of Nazareth his last major opus in which he is implacable in refuting attempts to revise Gospel account of the Messianic revelation.

        • Thank you again, Father Morello.
          Ratzinger is a man who early in his life learned how to speak truth in a totalitarian regime. It requires pregnant nuance (not lies). Now, in his old age, he finds himself prisoner of what amounts to a totalitarian ecclesiastical regime. There is much he could say, but he is acutely aware of the Petrine vocation of preserving unity, which still binds him.

    • The answer to Douthat’s musing is something which should have been apparent all along: That the project of a conservative (call it “Communio” if you like) reception of the Council of JPI and BXVI never penetrated very far into the Church, which has effectively been taken over by a thoroughly liberal clerisy by the late 60’s. They may have inspired a modest surge of vocations, but the episcopates were, with very rare exceptions, never on the same page as these popes. They would give lip service as necessary, but go on as they were. The papal power of appointment failed to alter this situation much, because a) both popes feared that a vigorous use of it to remake episcopates would trigger a major schism, b) there were in many places very little of a pool of like-minded clergy to appoint, and c) both men were, fundamentally, consensus-minded and gentlemanly in their administrative style. The Catholic Church of 1978-2013 was a fundamentally liberal ecclesiastical ice cream sundae with a conservative cherry on top (and a few nuts scattered within).

      One could make an even more fundamental critique of both pontificates, as (say) traditionalists typically do – this would get to Douthat’s point about an impossible synthesis. Of course, a traditionalist pope elected in the past two decades who insisted on ruling as a traditionalist *would* have provoked an open schism. The question then becomes whether that’s actually preferable to the unofficial schism which seems to have been in place now in the Church since the 1960’s.

      • Richard regarding the Council there are two distinct takes the best analysis given by a youngish increasingly noted theologian Thomas White OP titled READING THE COUNCIL WITH NEWMAN, NOT NIETZSCHE. An excerpt: Fifty years after the opening of the Second Vatican Council, two schools of thought dominate the interpretation of that event. One derives from the theology surrounding the post-conciliar journal Concilium, founded by theologians like Hans Küng and Edward Schillebeeckx. It advances a progressivist reading of the Council: Vatican II stands for engagement with modernity, liberation of women, dialogue with world religions, liberalization of sexual mores, laicization of the mission of the Church, and liberal political advocacy. The other school stems from the thinkers who founded the journal Communio: Hans Urs von Balthasar and Joseph Ratzinger. It reads the Council as a bold new vision of a distinctively Catholic way of being in the midst of modernity. The agenda is inevitably countercultural: the Church as a sign and instrument of salvation in Christ, nuptial theology that stresses the importance of gender complementarity, Eucharistic communion and sacramental marriage as the core of a healthy society, teaching and evangelization as the heart of the Christian mission in the modern world. That Council teaches us confidence. For in modernity the Church surely does travel through a dark night of faith, but she also bears within herself the hidden and radiant presence of the inextinguishable light of Christ.

        • Hello Fr. Morello,

          Yes, that has been the debate – two major receptions of the Council, Concilium vs Communio. Simplistic, but a lot of truth to it.

          And the truth in turn is that Concilium pretty well won the day at every level below the Papacy pre-2013. We can guess at numbers, but it’s easily most of the bishops and clergy, nearly all of the credentialed theologians and academics, nearly all of religious order leaders, nearly all leaders and staff of Church institutions, of the past 53 years. Two Communio pontificates kept this mass from coloring *too* much farther outside the lines; these popes helped inspire some modest bumps in (more conservative) vocations and a few key appointments here and there created a slight gravitational pull in the other direction. But in the main, the overwhelming reception of Vatican II has been a Concilium one, I’m afraid. The Western World underwent a full scale cultural revolution beginning in the 60’s, and the Church went along in its wake.

          The debate over how to understand the Council, over five decades on, seems increasingly bootless. We can go on (as one pope did) about a “Council of the Media,” or the “hijacking of Council,” but at some point, if the overwhelming, sustained, multi-generational reception of an event is “X,” it becomes increasingly difficult to cut that “X” reception away from the event and texts of the thing.

          I’ll be curious to see how Douthat treats this in detail, but he seems to be rightfully hinting at the prospect that both schools have increasing reason for re-examination. The Concilium approach seems to only produce death and decay, no matter how eagerly pursued. (52 years after the Dutch Catechism, what is even *left* of Dutch Catholicism?!?) But it’s less clear just how viable a synthesis a lot of the Communio project is, either.

        • P.S. By the way, I would like to make clear that my argument isn’t just an institutional one (though it is in part that). It is true that Communio lines of thought never penetrated very deeply into theological or ecclesiastical circles, and there are a number of reasons for that – not all of which Communio thought and thinkers can be held responsible for. It’s hard to beat back a revolution in its full tide, especially when it has tenure and ecclesiastical power to wield.

          But even beyond that, it is worth asking just how much staying power a lot of Ressourcement school is really going to have. There was a time when the the thought was gathering steam in the 1990’s in these circles that Balthasar, De Lubac, Maritain (and, yes, Wojtyla and Ratzinger) could lead the Church out of the theological cul-de-sacs that both mature Thomism on the one hand and progressivist theology (Kung, Rahner, Schillebeeckx, Congar, etc.) on the other had seemingly run into. But I can already sense the Communio tide gradually receding. I don’t say there is nothing of lasting value in any of that, but we must now be open to the possibility that a lot of that optimism may have been unfounded.

          • An interesting well informed analysis Richard. As a philosopher I search causes and the movement as such Modernism is the catch all terminology. What underlies what’s occurring is the modern man who questions all and forms his conclusions reaching back at least to Rousseau and the Emile. Politico liberalism in France critical analysis in Germany had to affect theology. “Pius X said modernism embraces every heresy. M. Loisy [France circa 1893] makes practically the same statement when he writes that ‘in reality all Catholic theology, even in its fundamental principles the general philosophy of religion, Divine law, and the laws that govern our knowledge of God, come up for judgment before this new court of assize'” (New Advent). I rediscovered my faith when Vat II began and sensed much of what was traditionally held was previously scrutinized although in appearance the Church was staid and solid. It was not. Most know what came to the surface during the Council was long fomenting and the likelihood is the Council staved it. Rebellion and schism was quite real during Paul VI’s pontificate. Paul VI kept the Church intact by compromise. You’re probably right that if John Paul II and Benedict were more forceful that rebellion which tended toward overt distancing would have occurred. As it happened it turned inward within the Church, which causes me to wonder whether strong opposition by those two pontiffs may have been the better option. And is at least in part why I agree with Bishop Athanasius Schneider that pious silence is not an option.

  12. It looks like the new church is coming to take the form of a high pressure boiler room marketing operation. Say whatever needs to be said to close the sale. Make the sale and charge the credit card. Transactional spirituality. I use the small c because the new church more and more has the appearance of an ecclesial community as opposed to a Church.

  13. One of the comforts of knowing Church history, and especially the history of the popes, is how greatly (and with pain and suffering) the Church always recovers from very deep crises. The Mystical Body of Christ will live the life of Christ until the end of time. I have no doubt that the hand of God is in all the confusion and turmoil of this papacy, but it is not all bad, despite the casualities. People should know that many popes and bishopsin the past have imposed a great deal of suffering and misery on the sheep and they will pay the debts they incur, as we all will pay for our own sins. The remedy for the troubles of our time is simple: ignore all the confusion and noise at the top and become saints. Not easy, but it is possible. Stick to traditional Catholic spirituality and ignore all the advise. Buy a copy of Tanquerrey’s The Spiritual Life. It is the science of the saints and don’t ask someone about it, clergy or lay, who has never read it.

    • This is of course true. But for parents struggling to transmit the faith to their children, and seeing the Church herself undermining this transmission, the battle is personal and deeply wounding.

  14. Paul VI was right. The smoke of satan did enter the Church. Now we have a pontiff who wants to fan the flames and increase the smoke.

  15. As info has come forward piecemeal Sandro Magister pieced together an important analysis of Benedict’s letter to Msgr Dario Viganò that further clarifies Benedict’s “continuity” with Pope Francis. An excerpt: “What may be the most expansive and meditated text published so far by Benedict XVI after his resignation from the papacy, in a multi-author book on John Paul II published in 2014, the pope emeritus does not hesitate to identify precisely ‘Veritatis Splendor’ as the encyclical of that pontificate most crucial for the present time. ‘To study and assimilate this encyclical,’ he concludes, ‘remains a great and important duty.’ It is no coincidence that three of the five ‘dubia’ submitted to Francis by several cardinals in 2016 concern precisely the risk of abandoning the foundations of moral doctrine reiterated by ‘Veritatis Splendor.’ Nor is it a coincidence that Ratzinger recalled, in his letter to Viganò, none other than the opposition to the principles of ‘Veritatis Splendor’ on the part of the theologians of the ‘Cologne Declaration,’ who have now been brought resoundingly back into favor by Francis. A pope whose ‘continuity’ with his predecessor can truly be, at this point, entirely and solely ‘interior'” (Magister).

  16. “What is it that drives them to seemingly overturn longstanding Church teachings when similar moves have decimated other Christian communities in the West?” The answer is obvious: They despise the truth, they have turned away from the light, they love the applause of the world, they embrace the sentimental and political causes of atheist governments. In short, they are neo-pagans.

  17. I guess Jesus created confusion also when He said, “Take and eat, this is my body. Take and drink, this is my blood.” I guess He didn’t know this would cause many of his disciples to leave. I guess He didn’t know this would cause Christian factions who deny the Transubstantiation.

    The Church has spoken on a lot of things. Too bad there are those who just refuse to listen to Her.

    Pope Francis said he is a son of the Church. Don’t go looking to false theologians. Didn’t Christ Himself say to be wary of wolves in sheep’s clothing?

    Ask yourself. Who is the sheep and who are the wolves?

    St. Joseph, pray for us.

  18. I look forward to reading this book, but I hope it doesn’t gloss over the most important thing to know about Francis’ form of narcissism: his de facto atheism. Francis is a process theologian, and process theologians are atheists. The theory was advanced in the early seventies by Kasper and Kung and others that God is incomplete and in process of learning how to be a good God. Francis, like Kasper, is so committed to this idea of God, they condemn anyone who fails to share this vision as being so wrong in their understanding of God as to effectively be atheists. They are Orwellien madmen. To believe in the inferiority of God is to have such a false understanding of God is to be in effect a real atheist. Only a de facto atheist would have such a hysterical hatred for immutable truth, which is accessible to everyone by God’s plan and not in need of super intellectuals to arrive at pivotal points in human history to instruct the rest of humanity. Great minds can inspire us and remind us, but only God is the source of all truth. Haters of immutable truth, like Francis, are the real Pharisees and Pelagians. They hold the amoral qualities that Francis hatefully projects onto others.

  19. Just started reading it. A very good book by a very good writer.

    I’m hoping Pope Francks’ Pontificate ends soon.

  20. I think that papal authority has been overrated by many Catholics. There is much resistance to Vatican II’s teaching on personal conscience.
    Saint Paul, in 2Corinthians 1:24 says: “Not for that we have dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy: for by faith ye stand”; and 1Peter 5:3 says to the elders: “Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock”.
    1Thessalonians 5:21 tells us to “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good”. Maybe we should have been doing this all along.
    Pope Francis may be helping this along.

3 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Douthat’s lament: Francis “must have known that it did not have to be this way” -
  2. Pope Francis Says “There Is No Hell”, Against The Backdrop Of Heroism Stories And The Majesty Of Maundy Thursday | Traditional Catholics Emerge
  3. Ross Douthat on Francis’ pontificate: “We live in interesting times as Catholics” – Catholic World Report

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