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Assessing Pope Francis’s decade at the helm

Most of the successes have been of the optical sort and fleeting–moments truly magnificent to behold, occasionally terrible and always arresting–while his failures are rather olfactory and persistent.

Pope Francis presides over Mass for the Congolese community in Rome in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican July 3, 2022. (CNS photo/Remo Casilli, Reuters)

Pope Francis’s ten years in office have given us some impressive successes and notable failures. Most of the successes have been of the optical sort and fleeting—moments truly magnificent to behold, occasionally terrible and always arresting—while his failures are rather olfactory and persistent.

Whether one thinks of the bracing first appearance from the loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica, or his long, solitary walk up the steps of the sacratum at St. Peter’s Basilica to bless the city and the world, or of the sight of him with the stalwart people amid ruin in Mosul, Iraq, or of Pope Francis in prayer before the icon of the Salus populi Romani, or any of a thousand other images that have made the rounds during his decade in office, the story of Pope Francis’s pontificate in pictures is powerful.

It is also a story very different from the one told by his acts of governance.

It is with the pope as governor that I have been chiefly concerned, and that story is powerful as well, though much less edifying.

The deal Pope Francis made with the Communist government of China—defensible in principle as an attempt to stave off Diocletian-level persecution at the hands of a post-industrial totalitarian surveillance state—with a view to the long game, but it is a bad deal and everyone knows it.

Pope Francis’s principal reform task was to give the central Roman governing apparatus—the Roman Curia—a new shape, to put it in form for action in the 21st century. He has given a paper reform, but the Roman bureaucracy has gone from a state of persistent dysfunction to one of sclerotic paralysis.

Pope Francis’s financial reform began well, with momentum from groundwork and significant progress already made under his predecessor, Benedict XVI. He gave broad powers to Cardinal George Pell, then almost immediately clipped Pell’s wings. When Pell clashed with men of the Old Guard, the pope took the other guy’s part.

Years before Pell went home to face trial on trumped up charges of sexual abuse in his native Australia, he had been mostly thwarted and pushed to the margins in the Vatican.

Pope Francis eventually replaced Pell with a Jesuit priest—no one whose first name was Bishop, let alone Archbishop or Your Eminence was ever going to take him seriously. The financial reform was dead in the water.

Recently, we have learned that the pope’s chosen successor to Pell, Fr. Juan Antonio Guerrero Alves SJ—who resigned “for health reasons” in November of last year—is somehow involved in the gruesome business surrounding the disgraced celebrity artist-priest, Fr. Marko Rupnik SJ, who is accused of serial sexual, psychological, and spiritual abuse over decades.

Guerrero was Rupnik’s superior from 2017 until the end of 2019. According to the Jesuits’ own reconstruction, there were restrictions imposed on Rupnik no later than June of 2019, which were either narrowly interpreted or applied with laxity sufficient to allow Rupnik broad liberty of movement and activity.

Even a mere rehearsal of Pope Francis’s conduct with respect to the global crisis of sexual abuse and coverup is impossible to give here—indeed, it demands book-length treatment, while a complete analysis of his governance in these regards would take several volumes—but none would be minimally adequate without treatment of names like Danneels, Collins, Barros, Inzoli, McCarrick, Zanchetta, Rupnik.

Here again, Pope Francis has given us paper reforms like Vos estis lux mundi, but refused to use them except very sparingly. He has promised transparency, only to deliver PR stunts like the removal of trials from the so-called Pontifical Secret while leaving ordinary levels of secrecy in place and largely unchanged, which are perfectly capable of keeping nasty business under wraps.

When it comes to other questions of power and order in the Church, like the role of women and the possibility of changing secular clerical discipline to allow married men admission to priestly orders in the Latin Church he governs, Pope Francis has repeatedly raised the gale and refused to come out of port. One may be forgiven the impression he is, in these regards, not unlike politicians who pay lip service to core life issues during election season.

His reform of the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family Studies is another case-in-point. His “renewal” of the Institute was a purge, and everyone knew it. Somehow, Amoris laetitia was at the center of it. In any case, it was another example of Vatican types refusing to be honest and transparent, especially egregious because honesty and transparency would have helped their cause.

Pope Francis has promised “synodal” government. Instead, Pope Francis has governed by fiat. Pope Francis has shown contempt for both law and the faithful it supposedly exists to serve. If one thing is clear regarding synodality, it is that the word means whatever Pope Francis wants it to mean in any given moment and regarding any particular thing.

“Many men see what you seem to be,” Machiavelli tells his prince in the eighteenth chapter of his handbook for rulers, “few men feel what you are.” The Florentine diplomat goes on to tell his Prince:

[T]hose few do not burn with desire to oppose the opinion of the many, who have the majesty of the state that defends them; and, in actions of all men, especially of princes, where there is no judgment to which [no judge to whom] they may have recourse, they look to the end [the purpose of the action].

People prefer to judge by what they see, in other words, and are generally content to let their judgments rest on what is apparent. Even those with other sensory data—tactile, auditory, olfactory—are not keen to reach judgments that run contrary to majority opinion, and are frequently eager not to publish them when they concern princes. This is especially—particularly, even axiomatically—true of persons in the prince’s orbit and not only subject to his power but dependent upon it. They are willing to let the prince do what he will, so long as he would not harm them.

A decade into this pontificate, the one thing of which Catholics may be certain is that Pope Francis has taken that lesson to heart.

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About Christopher R. Altieri 196 Articles
Christopher R. Altieri is a journalist, editor and author of three books, including Reading the News Without Losing Your Faith (Catholic Truth Society, 2021). He is contributing editor to Catholic World Report.


  1. And every cardinal who values his career more than the faith and the good of the Church is complicit with this catastrophic papacy. These, who donned red to display a willingness to be martyrs for the faith, are nothing more than cowardly careerists and lapdogs. They can’t even stand up to the threat within. Shame on them. As for Bergoglio, he is beyond hope.

    • I don’t know if Francis is consciously trying to wire the next conclave that elects his successor, but the appointment as Cardinals of such stalwarts as Cupich, Tobin, McElroy, etc. certainly make you wonder.

  2. CWR’s stated policy:

    “…comments containing obscene language or personal attacks—or those that are deemed by the editors to be needlessly combative or inflammatory—will not be published.”

    You cannot possibly hold us to this impossible standard when the topic we are addressing is the crepuscular, assiduous, blepharitic mess Bergoglio has made of our beloved 2,000-year-old Church in a mere ten years.

    It’s positively Jesuitical.

  3. For the love of Christ what successes are you talking about. Success of a pope should be to let the truth of Christ shine forth, to unite the Church and to greatly increase the number of believers because of the mesmerizing proclamation of the love of Christ our Incarnate God Redeemer the Savior of humankind without chipping away at the holy faith deposit that we already treasure in the Church while instead he supports the rebels who defy the truth to replace it with their own will of evil desires. This papacy is a “nightmare”.

  4. deeply apologize to CWR and its readers for the language used in my earlier comment.

    The people of God should never have to be subjected to a glutenous, tumescent term like, “Jesuitical,” or any of its fatuous derivatives.

  5. Evangelization is his forte. In our time, when it comes to evangelization, Pope Francis is second to none. Cardinals, bishops, priests, religious women, men, and each and every person of goodwill keep wishing the Pontiff good health and long life.

    • How do you come by your assessment that evangelization is his greatest forte? Evangelization is more than words or good intentions; its success can only be judged by its fruits. Please enlighten us.

    • Evangelization? Perhaps no pope in history has done more to attempt to drive believing Catholics out of the Church. May God deliver us from this appalling fraud of a papacy!

    • Why then, I wonder, does Mass attendance continue to decline and vocations to the priesthood and religious life drop as well?

    • How dreary! While disproportionate kudos are given to Papa, Jesus is left outside the door! Yet, Papa is in need of constant pick-me-ups and your just the man to provide them!

  6. I’m going on memory but was it about a year ago there was an article where the author interviewed about 30 US bishops off the record. One of the questions was “Are you aware of any seminarians who entered the seminary because of being inspired by Pope Francis?” To a man, the answer was “No.”

  7. Through the action (and inaction) of Pope Francis, the true state of our beloved Catholic Church has been revealed. There may be a few more closets or secret dungeons yet to be opened, but it seems to me it’s all out there on full display. Doctors will wait for the full condition of their patient to declare before taking action. There’s a whole lot of declaring going on right now!

    All of the priests and bishops who shock and amaze us on an almost daily basis have been priests and bishops for many years, much longer than a decade. And those that the Pope has “elevated” and “honored” are bathed in glaringly bright lights. This wasn’t the case before. Men and women of goodwill will do good no matter where they are placed.

    We’re all sitting on the edge of our seats, watching closely, listening attentively. Could this be “The Francis Effect”?

  8. “Persons in the prince’s orbit not only subject to his power but dependent upon it are willing to let the prince do what he will, so long as he would not harm them. Pope Francis has taken that to heart” (extract of Altieri).
    Prince Francis does what he wants independent of opinion. Intimidation and feeling safe extend beyond his inner circle of glorified rogues to the ordinaries in the field, many of them good men who lost their voice.
    What else with the Church as it has become. If anything, I repeat what was apparent from the start of the German Synodale Weg operetta, that the outrages there were the prelude for the great stage opera the Synod on Synodality.
    At present there’s widespread confusion in what to believe as a Christian. That will be clarified 2024 to mean that there really are no permanent beliefs to be confused about. All that will be required is merciful tolerance of sin, quickly becoming, by then an irrelevant word, and inclusiveness no longer required to be called radical.
    That’s not to say all will go along, there certainly will be resistance. And with that resistance, our loyalty to the eternal Word there certainly will be greater hope for justification before Christ’s judgment. Our compassionate mission, effort for conversion of the misled.

  9. I like to look at the brighter side of things. Upon the Second Coming of Jesus, Jesus will wipe away His Bride, the Catholic Church’s, every tear, and there will be Peace on Earth. Hallelujah! What Jesus tells us to look for, which will indicate His Second Coming, is the Matthew 24:15 “the desolating abomination spoken of through Daniel the prophet standing in the holy place”. Both Jesus and the Blessed Mother, through locutions to St. Faustina, have confirmed that Jesus is, in fact, now Coming.

    To survive ‘The Great Tribulation’ which comes when we see the, Matthew 24:15 “the desolating abomination spoken of through Daniel the prophet standing in the holy place”, is to flee to Jesus’, recently instituted, year 2000, gifts of Divine Mercy Sunday. “a person on the housetop must not go down to get things out of his house, a person in the field must not return to get his cloak”.

    Please receive Jesus Gifts of Divine Mercy Sunday, this April 16th, in preparation for the Second Coming of Jesus! Jesus will Rule on earth for tens of thousands of years, and those Catholics in a State of Grace, will live in paradise on earth, married to Jesus.

    Matthew 24:15 The Great Tribulation
    “When you see the desolating abomination spoken of through Daniel the prophet standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then those in Judea must flee to the mountains, a person on the housetop must not go down to get things out of his house, a person in the field must not return to get his cloak. Woe to pregnant women and nursing mothers in those days. Pray that your flight not be in winter or on the sabbath, for at that time there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will be.

    Divine Mercy in My Soul, 965
    Jesus looked at me and said, Souls perish in spite of My bitter Passion. I am giving them the last hope of salvation; that is, the Feast of My Mercy. If they will not adore My mercy, they will perish for all eternity. Secretary of My mercy, write, tell souls about this great mercy of Mine, because the awful day, the day of justice, is near.

    Divine Mercy in My Soul, 699
    I desire that the Feast of Mercy be a refuge and shelter for all souls, and especially for poor sinners. On that day the very depths of My tender mercy are open. I pour out a whole ocean of graces upon those souls who approach the fount of My mercy. The soul that will go to Confession and receive Holy Communion shall obtain complete forgiveness of sins and punishment. On that day all the divine floodgates through which grace flow are opened. Let no soul fear to draw near to Me, even though its sins be as scarlet.

    Divine Mercy in My Soul, 635, The Blessed Virgin Mary :
    … you have to speak to the world about His great mercy and prepare the world for the Second Coming of Him who will come, not as a merciful Savior, but as a just Judge. Oh, how terrible is that day! Determined is the day of justice, the day of divine wrath. The angels tremble before it. Speak to souls about this great mercy while it is still the time for [granting] mercy. If you keep silent now, you will be answering for a great number of souls on that terrible day.

  10. Ron above – Yes, Francis Maier.
    Fr. Fessio of Ignatius Press also said recently, I believe on EWTN, that there are JPII priests and BXVI priests but there are no Francis priests. Doesn’t it say somewhere, “By their fruits you shall know them”?

  11. The image of humility paying for his bill getting on the bus and the only really good thing: the year of mercy! After that the Vatican version of an Eton mess! The put downs, the angry fist waving,the castigating of those who love tradition as mentally deranged and other things! I wonder what is Catholicism any more? Just to have a good holy Pope and give us solid spiritual food rather than the gruel currently on offer!!!!

  12. These past ten years Pope Francis has repeatedly reminded Catholics that the Church’s Pro-Life teaching and active care extends through the whole range of life from womb to tomb as this quotation from his apostolic exhortation, “On the Call to Holiness in Today’s World,” exemplifies: “Our defence of the innocent unborn, for example, needs to be clear, firm and passionate, for at stake is the dignity of a human life, which is always sacred and demands love for each person, regardless of his or her stage of development. Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly exposed to covert euthanasia, the victims of human trafficking, new forms of slavery, and every form of rejection. We cannot uphold an ideal of holiness that would ignore injustice in a world where some revel, spend with abandon and live only for the latest consumer goods, even as others look on from afar, living their entire lives in abject poverty.” (Gaudete et Exsultate 101)

    • “On the call to holiness”! One sentence for the “defense of the unborn” and back to his principal cardinal message: tend to the poor! THE CALL TO HOLINESS for Bergoglio is to take care of the poor. After he was elected pope he chose the name Francis because Saint “Francis loved the poor”. Wrong, Saint Francis, the Poverello, wanted to be the poorest one because by the love of God he was on fire for Christ called the seraphic saint. Certainly, we have to give alms and fight injustice but as Jesus said to Saint Faustina: “I demand deeds of mercy…for love of Me.” “For it is love that I desire” (Hosea 6:6). “that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in them” (Jn 18:26) HE is the King of Glory and the God of love. He made us for his glory and that is what brought forth saints and martyrs. Georgio Bergoglio said when he was young, he wanted to be a politician or a priest. He might have been a great politician.

  13. For a regular Catholic in the pew like me with a little knowledge of theology, the most significant and meaningful act made by Pope Francis was the suppression of the pre-Vatican II Mass. He abrogated Benedict XVI’s decree Summorum Pontificum, which allowed any priest to celebrate the old Mass. Essentially, Francis declared this a failed experiment. Instead of leading to the mutual enrichment of two different forms of the Roman rite, the older form was being abused as a rallying point for opposition to the Second Vatican Council. Francis rescinded Benedict’s permission, reverting to the status quo under Paul VI and John Paul II: each bishop can decide — within the authority granted to them by the Church’s universal norms — to what extent to allow the older form, and even then only in chapels, not parish churches. Francis’s stated goal is to have all Latin Rite Catholics worship together with the reformed Roman Rite called for by Vatican II. While the severity of his decision surprised almost everyone, the Pope feels it is his duty, as Bishop of Rome, to ensure the full implementation of the Second Vatican Council. The Council demanded, for good theological reasons, that the Church’s rituals be reformed.

    • Sorry, but I can’t see the connection between Sacrosanctum Concilium, VII’s document on the liturgy, and the decision of Francis to revoke his predecessor’s generosity in allowing Mass to be celebrated in the old rite. The decision seems more motivated by the Pope’s personal dislike for the TLM than by any legitimate pastoral consideration.

  14. F. Connell

    Summorum Pontificum was no experiment. It was a righting of a wrong by eliminating an illegal restriction on the celebrating of the TLM, that illegal construct called an indult. You seem to have unquestionably accepted the argument that just because one attends the TLM that one rejects VII. The two are not necessarily related.

    Read the ancient church document Quo Primum. As I have posted here in the past I state again; an enemy of the Mass of the Ages is an agent of Satan. I pray for the conversion of the Pope’s soul.

    • Joseph Meynier:
      I invite you to get a copy of and read the book: “The Pope, The Council, and The Mass” by James Likoudis and Kenneth Whitehead. There is a chapter about “Quo Primum.” You’ll be enlightened about the reformed Mass of Vatican II as indeed containing elements of both continuity and change (reform, or actually more of return to the original and more ancient sources) of the Mass of the Ages: its essence of being the memorial sacrifice of Christ remains and has not changed, while its ceremonial flow and ritual order has been reformed. What is even of happy development for us the laity is the retrieval of the more ancient understanding that got lost in the passage of church history about the “celebrant” of the Mass being the whole gathered assembly participating in the priesthood of Christ with the priest as “presider.” Today we don’t call the priest “celebrant,” for we all who are gathered for Mass are the “celebrant.” I hope you spend time in study and prayer in reading the book.

      • F.Connell, some of us would prefer to have both the Novus Ordo and the traditional Mass. Neither is perfect. Why does Francis need to directly contradict his far more learned, experienced and intelligent predecessor? What could possibly be the problem with having two forms of the Latin Rite Mass for a while?
        Is the Novus Ordo so bad that it can’t survive if any competition to it allowed? Is that why only a minority of Catholics attend Mass anymore? I don’t think so but then why is Francis so upset that he wants to suppress the competition? The TLM Mass is always crowded on Sundays and always has families with young children.
        Is Francis upset that there are still Catholics that believe that not going to Mass on Sunday is a mortal sin?
        As Weigel has said it is hard to understand why Francis would be so upset with the TLM and shows no concern with the enormous drop in attendance at Mass on Sundays.

        • Please read my first comment above. And if you want to know the Pope’s reasons, please read the actual text of Traditiones Custodes (easily accessible online!), not the commentators.

          • Your first comment above which has the obvious error where you said that TC reverts to the “status quo”… “where “each bishop can decide”? That status quo no longer exists. Bishops now need temporary permission granted from the Vatican to allow the TLM. Any TLM Mass is not even allowed to be mentioned in the parish bulletin. Was that the policy of John Paul II? I guess you also think that the gutting of the JPII Institute by Francis was also what JPII would have wanted.If you are not even aware of the simple facts how could anyone trust that you have any understanding at all of the new policy on the TLM of Francis?

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