Anxiety abounds, among Roman Catholic clergy and laity alike, about the intent and direction of the Vatican since Pope Francis was elected to be the Vicar of Christ on Earth. When, in the flesh, He walked the earth, Christ was God's Word Incarnate. In the Gospels, He enacted His claim to wield God's authority on several occasions, illustrating it in famously dramatic fashion in his encounter with the adulteress, and those who were bound to act as the executioners of God's law against her sin (John 8:3–10).
Rooted in Christ's imperative to St. Peter (John 21:16–17), the word "vicar" identifies the Pope as Christ's representative, the agent of His ongoing ministry on Earth. The words a Pope speaks in that capacity, and the actions he takes, are as the words and actions of Christ.
In this respect, the Pope stands for Christ as Christ tells us He stands for God. For he says (John 12:45), "Seeing me one sees the one sending me." And again (John 14:9), "Seeing me, one sees the Father. So, how is it you say, 'Show us the Father?" Speaking thus to Philip, the Apostle, He [Christ] substantiates the meaning of His representation of God on Earth. The Pope enacts for Christ; the agency Christ enacts for God. Therefore, an incumbent Pope must give himself over to Christ. He may well say, as St. Paul says in the epistle, "I live, now, not I: But Christ lives in me."
If this is so, then one who sees the Pope sees Christ; and in Christ, God Himself. Here then is the challenge for contemporary Roman Catholics: The Word and ministry of God reported in the Scriptures has been affirmed and in succeeding ages clarified by Popes throughout the generations. The Pope has done so in consultation with the bishops and cardinals, also called vicars of God and Jesus Christ. Informed and guided by the Holy Spirit of God, they are all together supposed to safeguard the Church's teachings, so that those teachings accurately reflect God's written and Incarnate Word, in spirit and truth.
But what if the occupant of Peter's chair, supposedly speaking and acting authoritatively in the name of Christ, contradicts the teachings vouchsafed to him? Were all the generations that came before, which were ruled in good faith by the Church's most authoritative teachings, somehow abandoned or deceived and betrayed by the Holy Spirit? Did Christ live in those generations as they strove to obey His will, as affirmed by the Church? Or does He live in the apparently contrary enactments of the Pope they whose teaching casts doubt on that previous affirmation?
Any such an apparent contradiction between the enactments of a Pope and what the Church has consistently represented as the teachings of Christ will inevitably raise doubts and sew confusion among the faithful. Today, we live in just such a confused and doubtful time. In some quarters, high prelates raise and seek clarification of such doubts, thinking it their duty. Meanwhile, in other quarters, prelates, in similarly high positions, castigate them for being the "enemies of the Pope." Faced with such contention among prelates of superior rank, members of the laity are driven to their knees, praying to the Lord to have mercy upon His Church.
But the common sense on which they rely to live in Christ from day to day must come into play when actions approved by the Holy See conflict with the basic premise of the Pope's authority over their life and good conscience. Such will be the case if, as is being widely reported, Pope Francis agrees to give the anti-Christ government of the People's Republic of China de facto control over the appointment of Roman Catholic bishops in that country.
After all, it is the official policy of the Chinese regime to deny God and Jesus Christ. As St. John observes, this makes the Chinese rulers deceivers, whom the Scripture identifies as anti-Christ: "Who is a liar, but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is anti-Christ, who denies the Father and the Son" (1 John 4: 14–15).
How can anti-Christ government powers be trusted to act as the Vicar of Christ, wielding His authority? Under Xi Jinping, the official aim of the Chinese government is to force the people of China to idolize their nation. The bishops they appoint will be purveyors of this idolatry. Isn't every Christian body, as it were, a temple of God's Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19)? How can any such body conform to the instruction of clergy who aim to set up such idol in that temple? Far from being a proper exercise of papal authority, this appears to deliver up the body of the people of China to be made into a blasphemous abomination, worthy of God's wrath.
In the course of Pope Francis' tenure, mists of doctrinal confusion have grown into clouds of doubt, laden with the dismaying prospect of apostasy. The scandal of mostly homosexual clerical sex abuse, which some thought to be in remission, has returned with a vengeance. Though Pope Francis and the hierarchs he has gathered about himself adamantly seek to suppress the truth, at its core, the clerical sex abuse scandal also involves idolizing human will and power over the will and authority of God, when it comes to the nature and government of human community.
For just as the Chinese totalitarians mean to substitute the idol of national allegiance for the worship of God in Christ, so the sexual libertines mean to substitute the idol of willful pleasure and self-satisfaction for action in conformity with God's will for the perpetuation and care of the human species.
The Word and spirit of God demand that love and care be freely given and received, in God's way and for His sake. Pope Francis and his cohorts seem poised to embrace the insinuating lie of Christ's perpetual adversary, a lie more and more regurgitated by elitists in many parts of the word. That lie has, from the beginning, seen the exertion of human will and power as the way to fulfill the shared vocation of humanity — rather than the conformation of our will and existence to the lineaments of God.
With this in mind, we have to ponder the fact that Pope Francis appears to countenance the view that secular elitist concerns (climate change, population control, erasing borders) are of higher priority than observing God's benevolent provisions for human life and truly loving community. Such is the implication of the otherwise spiritually illogical notion that anti-Christ rulers, who reject Christ, in spirit and in truth, are nonetheless fit to determine the character of the leading members of the body of Christ. That belongs to the government of God and Christ, whose rule is a standard no human government may rightly challenge or overthrow. Whence that standard is no longer upheld — even unto death — has faith already departed?