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Pope Francis laments when ‘ideology replaces faith’ in segment of U.S. Catholics

Pope Francis speaks about World Youth Day in Lisbon, Portugal, during his weekly Wednesday audience in the Paul VI Hall Aug. 9, 2023. / Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Rome Newsroom, Aug 28, 2023 / 09:36 am (CNA).

In a conversation with Jesuits in Portugal at the beginning of August, Pope Francis commented on a “climate of closure” in the United States, which he said sometimes replaces faith with ideology.

“You say you have felt a climate of closure [in the United States],” the pope said, addressing a question from a Jesuit brother. “Yes, this climate can be experienced in some situations. And there you can lose the true tradition and turn to ideologies for support. In other words, ideology replaces faith, membership in a sector of the Church replaces membership in the Church.”

Pope Francis’ comments were made during a meeting with Jesuits Aug. 5 at the Colégio de São João de Brito, a Jesuit-run primary and secondary school in Lisbon, Portugal. An English translation of Francis’ private conversation with members of the Society of Jesus was published Aug. 28 by the Jesuit journal La Civiltà Cattolica.

He said the situation in the United States is not easy due to “a very strong reactionary attitude,” which “is organized and shapes the way people belong, even emotionally.”

And he referenced what he calls in Italian “indietrismo,” which translates in English to “backwardness” or “looking backward.”

This attitude, he noted, “is useless, and we need to understand that there is an appropriate evolution in the understanding of matters of faith and morals as long as we follow the three criteria that Vincent of Lérins already indicated in the fifth century: Doctrine evolves ‘ut annis consolidetur, dilatetur tempore, sublimetur aetate.’”

“In other words, doctrine also progresses, expands, and consolidates with time and becomes firmer but is always progressing,” he explained.

St. Vincent of Lérins was a 5th century Christian monk. In contemporary times he is considered the leading early Church authority on the theology of tradition and the development of doctrine, though there are diverging interpretations of his thought.

The pope’s citation of Vincent of Lérins in his conversation with Jesuits in Portugal comes from the monk’s theological work, the “Commonitorium,” in which is found one of his most well-known statements, known as the Vincentian canon: “Moreover, in the Catholic Church itself, all possible care must be taken that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all.”

Pope Francis has referenced Vincent of Lérins on the development of doctrine in the past, including in a conversation with Jesuits in Canada in July 2022.

In Portugal, the pope said some people “opt out” of Vincent of Lérins’ criteria of doctrinal evolution. These, he said, are the people he calls “indietristi.”

“When you go backward, you form something closed, disconnected from the roots of the Church and you lose the sap of revelation. If you don’t change upward, you go backward, and then you take on criteria for change other than those our faith gives for growth and change,” he said.

Francis said the effects on this backwardness on morality “are devastating.”

“The problems that moralists have to examine today are very serious, and to deal with them they have to take the risk of making changes, but in the direction I was saying,” he said.


Asked by another Jesuit about his greatest joys right now, Pope Francis pointed to the first of two monthlong assemblies of the Synod on Synodality, to take place in October. His joy, he said, is present despite some imperfections in the way the synod is being managed.

“The joy that I have most at present comes from the preparation for the synod, even though sometimes I see, in some parts, that there are shortcomings in the way it is being conducted,” he said.

“The joy of seeing how from small parish groups, from small church groups, very beautiful reflections emerge and there is great ferment,” he added, also stating that he did not invent the idea of a synod.

“It was Paul VI at the end of the Council who realized that the Catholic Church had lost the sense of synodality. The Eastern part of the Church maintains it,” the pope said.

He recalled his role as assistant general relator in the 2001 Synod of Bishops on bishops.

“At the time when I was preparing things for the vote on what had come from the groups, the cardinal in charge of the synod said to me, ‘No, don’t put that in. Take it out.’ In short, they wanted a synod with censorship, a curial censorship that blocked things,” Francis noted.

The pope said that though there were imperfections on the road to synodality since St. Paul VI established the Synod of Bishops in 1965, “in the last 10 years we have been continuing the progress, until we reach, I think, a mature expression of what synodality is.”

“Synodality is not about going after votes, as a political party would,” he emphasized. “It is not about preferences, about belonging to this or that party. In a synod, the principal figure is the Holy Spirit. He is the protagonist. So you have to let the Spirit lead things. Let him express himself as he did on the morning of Pentecost. I think that is the strongest path.”

Advice for Jesuits

During the conversation, Pope Francis also gave advice to Jesuits about living their vocation, including the exhortation to avoid worldliness.

“Spiritual worldliness is an often recurring pitfall. You have to learn to distinguish: It is one thing to prepare for dialogue with the world — as you do with dialogue with the worlds of art and culture — it is another thing to compromise yourself with the things of the world, with worldliness,” he said.

When it comes to guarding against worldliness, as well as living chastely, the pope emphasized the importance of doing a daily examination of conscience, as recommended by the founder of the Society of Jesus.

“Today the serious problem is about the hidden refuges of self-seeking, which many times involve sexuality, but also other matters. What to do? I find help in the examination of conscience, as St. Ignatius asked,” Francis said, noting that Ignatius of Loyola “very rarely” dispensed from this obligation for Society of Jesus members.

“Its aim is to see what’s going on inside you. And there are consecrated people who have their hearts exposed to the four winds, with their windows open, their doors open. In short, they have no internal consistency.”

Francis said prayer is also very important: “With prayer the Jesuit goes forward, afraid of nothing, because he knows that the Lord will inspire him in due time as to what he must do.”

“When a Jesuit does not pray, he becomes a desiccated Jesuit. In Portugal one would say he has become a ‘baccalà,’ a dried and salted codfish,” he said, referencing the famous Lisbon dish.

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  1. That the Pontiff finds it necessary to criticize doctrinally traditional American Catholics as ideologues who look backwards, and in doing so divest themselves of Church membership is quite startling. Plainly speaking, he judges that Catholics who hold on to Apostolic tradition ‘replace’ the faith. Are we, then, the apostates the Apostle Paul warned of? That Christ is expected to crown with glory those who repudiate what he commanded?
    How is it possible to hold that Christ’s words, If you love me you will keep my commandments – is an error? Clearly there’s a contradiction. If I’m in error to teach parishioners that breaking the commandments is serious sin, that it requires repentance, then Christ who spoke those words is in error, and that he, the Pontiff, is correct.
    This should shake the foundations of the world’s episcopate and oblige them to challenge what is said, that he either correct or disavow. Clergy, all of us who have faith in Christ are obliged, by their invested office, especially bishops who are ordained as defenders of the faith to correct such an outstanding error.

  2. Pope Francis once again is saying layered wrong things.

    1. Homosexual inclusion means they are not bound by the morality they way the rest are because the rest have faults too and shouldn’t be bound that way either.

    2. This can be discovered by looking at your own faults and seeing that your own faults shouldn’t exclude you.

    3. Therefore no-one actually is ever bound by the morality in such a way that anyone is excluded. We are all to be included via the lowest denominator morality to be devised.

    4. Development necessarily means that the morality must yield. Development can not mean deepening in the moral prohibitions.

    5. These approaches are never spiritual worldliness.

    6. Doctrine does not assist you from collapsing into “inner refuges”; and at the same time it stands in the way of homosexuals becoming truly free.

    Fact is these are not new positions. Anyone who was around in the Seventies and Eighties would immediately recognize them, i.e., how the Devil was attacking in those days too.

    What you learn from faith is precisely that the rejection of faith is devastating and there is no disconnection between faith and joy except sin.

    Here is the seduction – here:

    ‘ Francis said the effects on this backwardness on morality “are devastating.” ‘

  3. A mess indeed. Here he goes again with his long-standing grievance with USA Backwardists do not accept the evolution of doctrine. Ideology replaces faith (um..;)
    Since slavery and capital punishment were accepted in the past but are now condemned, sodomy, concubinage, etc. can sometimes be good and God’s will, if I listen to my conscience. (Ah…)

    My nerves. The upcoming Synods are being run on the ideas of discredited 70’s theologians like, Curran, Häring, Küng and assorted octogenarian Latin American marxists in wheelchairs. All of this ancient hippy sociology is backwardist ideology seeking to replace the Deposit of Faith/Truth. I’ll take Christ! He is alive and has a future.

    • Actually, concubinage was tolerated by the Church around the time of Augustine. The Council of Toledo, held in 400, in its seventeenth canon legislates as follows for laymen: after pronouncing sentence of excommunication against any who in addition to a wife keeps a concubine, says: “But if a man has no wife, but a concubine instead of a wife, let him not be refused communion; only let him be content to be united with one woman, whether wife or concubine”

      • So are you advocating for fornication? Is sex with someone you’re not married to a virtue to be admired and emulated? If this Council of Toledo taught the same, the Council was in error.

      • There were as many as 30 or more Councils of Toledo in the early Church from the 5th through the 7th centuries, depending upon how they were counted. It sounds like the unidentified Council of Toledo you cite was an early exercise in synodal robber-council confusion and heresy. Please indicate whether its 17th canon that you cite was accepted and approved by the Roman Pontiff. Surely you are aware that “a council apart from the pope is but a lifeless trunk”.

      • The Council of Toledo in 400. 😂 Yes, Frank, and as any Jesuit will tell you, Toledo synods went on to approve slavery. Please read the Pope about not being such a backwardist! Fornication hasn’t been talked about since the 50’s. Replacing the Apostolic Faith with sociology is more on trend. Spanish concubinage is too Luis Rubiales.
        Fear not Frank. For a more a more au courant heterodox gathering look no further than present day Germany. The German synodalers simply assume that everyone who wants Communion is already fornicating. Get with the times!

    • The “theologians” you cite remind me of the dumbest aspect of their thought inspiring my three questions for Francis.

      Looking “backward,” why was God so stupid and evil to the peoples of the past to deprive them of an adequate understanding of right and wrong necessary to be decent human beings? And where exactly is this magical land of forward, and what will utopia be like when we finally get there?

      Oh, I forgot. He did answer these questions almost ten years ago when he expressed his agreement with the theology of Walter Kasper, and others from the 70s, who promoted process theology that describes God essentially as being as much of a nincompoop as the rest of us and in the process of “learning” how to be a good God through history like His creatures. No one seems willing to point out how atheistic it is for the emperor to so clothe himself.

  4. More derisive and divisive remarks by Pontiff Francis toward faithful orthodox American Catholics made to assembled Jesuits. You know the Vatican is off the rails when you begin to sympathize with Daniel Ortega.

  5. What an astonishing and scandalous exhibition of ignorance that is matched and exceeded only by his arrogance. It is impossible to accept, or even imagine, that this is the way a Catholic pope speaks and thinks: the acidic contempt, the narcissistic derision, the vulgar mockery, the vile epithets. And all directed to whom? Those whom he has pushed to the margins of his counterfeit Church for the crime of professing the apostolic Catholic Faith in harmony with 2,000 years of infallible dogma and doctrine.

  6. How ironic — and how infuriating.

    Like all leftists, Bergoglio projects his tactics on his perceived opponents.

    For him to accuse American ‘backwardists’ of losing the true tradition and turning to ideologies for support is nothing short of appalling.

    Keep in mind that he’s saying this to an audience of Jesuiticals whose organization is responsible for the travesty of ‘liberation theology’ which has been leading Latin Americans into atheism for more than a generation.

    CWR will need to stand strong. This Synod on Synodolatry is going to unleash the hounds of hell on the faithful.

  7. Of Vincent of Lerins, we read: “In other words, doctrine also progresses, expands, and consolidates with time and becomes firmer but is always progressing.”

    But, the Church did move “progress”, under the greater and coherent elucidation of some saint named John Henry Cardinal Newman, and his “Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine.” Not much room there for Muslim-like “abrogation” or with Thomas Kuhn’s “paradigm shifts” in the natural sciences:

    In the Essay, Newman appeals, in part, to a biological analogy whereby growth (“development”) is one thing, while corruption and mutation another:

    “I venture to set down seven notes of varying cogency, independence, and applicability to discriminate healthy developments of an idea from its state of corruption and decay, as follows: “There is no corruption if it retains:

    (1) One and the same TYPE [doctrine/ natural law vs a disconnected degree of pastoral “accompaniment/accommodation”?],
    (2) The same PRINCIPLES [sound philosophy v. neo-Hegelianism],
    (3) The same ORGANIZATION [the Barque of Peter v. all religions equivalently (?) “the will of God”?];
    (4) If its beginnings ANTICIPATE its subsequent phases [the moral absolutes of the Catechism/Veritatis Splendor (VS) vs normalization of homosexual activity, etc.?],
    (5) Its later phenomena PROTECT and subserve its earlier [VS and Familiarus Consortio vs fluid social-science and the “arc of history”?];
    (6) If it has a power of assimilation and REVIVAL [Evangelization vs Amazonia/Germania and a Synod on Synodality?], and
    (7) A vigorous ACTION from first to last…” [steadfastness (!) while also engaging fully our new challenges vs double-speak in need of a spinal implant?].

  8. Personally I stopped listening to the Pope, as in taking him seriously, some time ago.

    He wants to abolish the Latin Mass, he gives a public audience to Fr. James Martin and Nancy Pelosi, and now it emerges that he thinks of us as reactionaries and – this is a new one – ‘backwardists’.

    And the beat goes on.

  9. I am in Italy now and ran into a priest friend of mine who has worked for various cardinals at the Vatican. I will say nothing more about him for fear of revealing his identity. After exchanging cordialities we spoke briefly about the Pope’s recent derisive remarks about Catholics in America. This priest has had contact with Francis and commented that he has always treated him kindly and cannot explain his frequent nasty remarks. He ended by saying that Francis seems to always make trouble for himself. He said the future will not augur much change as Francis has stacked the deck with cardinals he’s appointed. We both pointed to the need to rely on the Holy Spirit’s guidance.

  10. The Pope complains that Catholics such as I look backwards. Doesn’t he see how rotten the present is and the prospects for the future?

  11. Given his shallow mind, I suspect his narcissism leads Francis to think much like an American celebrity. Just say something outrageous to prove you’re a misunderstood genius instead of just plain stupid.

  12. Some 40 years ago, during a summer school event, I came face to face with divorce for the first time.

    One of the most popular boys, certainly the cutest, moderately athletic (he was short but scrappy), and very smart (was in both the accelerated reading and math class), was shattered.

    Never had I seen him with that kind of look on his face. He told me and my friend his parents had divorced (we were all just going into the 7th grade).

    I have despised divorce ever since.

    I’ve seen the damage it does play out among adult friends and their own children.

    I don’t consider myself too hard core on this issue. Abuse, alcohol, abandonment, addiction–I think there can be a reason why a couple may part ways and a Declaration of Nullity might be warranted.

    But those are rare cases. Ironically, I know two cases–one alcoholism and one drug addiction–were the couple overcame the issues and are still together. The other cases of divorce around me seem to be the so-called “no fault” variety with which I have no sympathy.

    So no thanks. I’ll keep my “ideology” on contraception (not warranted ever), abortion (ditto), divorce (well, Jesus said no, so I guess no) and that man can keep his “development” and “progress.”

  13. Prayer, meditation, examination of conscience, discernment, and constructive action are known to be part and parcel of every genuine pilgrim’s toolkit.

  14. Prayer in Christ, meditation on Christ, examination of conscience when I sinned against Christ and others, discernment regarding the will of Christ, and constructive action as the charity of Christ are known to be part and parcel of every genuine Christian pilgrim’s toolkit.

  15. Paul in Toronto: I am not American but rather your closest neighbor and friend from up north. I am appalled that the Pope refers to the American Church as ‘backward’. He’s very adept at ‘naming and insulting’, a lower version of Trump. First, it must be said that the present Holy Father doesn’t speak any English at all, very unusual for an international leader today, to not know the ‘lingua franca’, but has plenty to say about that culture. We know he knows nothing about American life and the Church. He’s using the old anti-American slogans from the seventies, much coming from Latin America. Does “backward” mean all Americans!>? How absurd! The Pope should get on his knees and thank the great many wonderful American Catholics.. the Church would be bleak without the Americans. As it is, the Pope is following the ‘evolutionary’, relativistic approach to some sort of theology, which most Catholics want nothing to do with… he seems more drenched in the culture that he seems aware of. “Backward”, to PF, means ‘those who disagree with me”. For those who remember, PF emerged as Pope from the balcony not wearing the traditional ‘ mozetta’. That was a sign he’d become as Pope as he has: scornful of traditional and traditional people, all issues being ‘equal’, he does nothing about the rampant gay network, which is for sure, the number one animus against the faith today. No sympathy for the tens of thousands of abused men and the heartbreak of their families. I suppose ‘forward’ means just walking past them, as they /he has done. No ‘Fratelli tutti’ there. He shunned the great Dubbia Cardinals when the points they were making were extremely relevant. Worst, he has shunned Cardinal Zen…never asked for his release. No accompaniment there and lots of ‘throwing away’. Who would have believed it? I have felt opposed to most of what he does. He has had such ‘experts’ to visit him though: Bernie Sanders, Chelsea Clinton, Deepak Choprah.. but not the Dubbia Cardinals, nor the 65 theologians who wrote a magnificent request for clarification from PF: snubbed also. I am amazed that PF doesn’t see his own hypocrisy. In the meantime, I will follow the Church I love; I teach the Bible and RCIA and no Pope can remove me. But I’m Canadian, so I guess that makes me ‘backward” too. No one can take those words very seriously. Let’s move on, to love and live our faith. One thing is for sure, in one hundred years, the Church will be up and running in a new and beautiful way. It will be the same and forever the Catholic Church. No need for us to get ruffled about these ‘simple’ attacks.

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