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The Vortex—Failed Papacy?

October 22, 2015  0
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TRANSCRIPT

Now, onto the Synod and, more appropriately, the papacy of Pope Francis.

One source inside the Vatican has said that if the conclave were held today, he doubts the Holy Father would receive 10 votes. Whether that is true or not, or whether the source is accurate or not, is beside the point. The very fact that there is that kind of discussion inside the Vatican at all is telling.

When measure is taken of the success of leadership, a number of things are normally considered. For example, at the end of a U.S. presidential term, the questions are asked: Did he accomplish what he said he would? Did he avoid any major self-inflicted problems? Did he handle unforeseen problems that suddenly emerged on his watch in an effective way?

On a temporal level at least, many people here in Rome are saying privately that the pontificate of Francis is shaping up to be a failure, largely owing to the unrealistic expectations that emerged in the early months. And this includes all the early talk about curial reform, the very reasons many cardinals said they were supportive of Bergoglio in the conclave. To date, curial reform is dead on arrival. Add to this the expectations stoked by the secular media.

Call it the Humanae Vitae effect. Humanae Vitae was the 1968 encyclical of Bl. Pope Paul VI that restated longstanding Church opposition to birth control and reaffirmed the sacrosanct place of sex only within marriage. Prior to its release, there had been much hype that all that teaching was going to be scuttled. It wasn't. But the expectation had been so rampant that when it didn't happen, there was a revolt within the Church and the culture at large. Despite his own blessedness, Pope Paul's papacy — from a temporal standpoint — is largely viewed as a failure by various camps within the Church.

Pope Francis is quickly moving — or being moved — to the same stage. His own off-handed phrases and various unofficial interviews began to set a bar that the secular media quickly picked up on. Francis became the Pope of change in the big narrative. He was mercy-centered, welcoming to the world, accepting of sin in that he largely dismissed it, and so on. He was going to change the Church — no more condemnation. At last after 2,000 years, he was going to usher in mercy, as though there had been no mercy the previous two millennia.

But when a tale starts getting spun, it's like a runaway train; the only thing that's going to make it stop is a crash. In this regard, his own media people at the Holy See Press Office have been a disaster, failing him on almost every score. They let narratives play out and rarely confronted them effectively. Some say that people in the press office, like Fr. Thomas Rosica, actually wanted the distortions to become the narrative because they personally support the whole pro-gay message and want the Church to accept homosexuality. Rosica did nothing to contradict that storyline as he sits up in the press room almost daily and never lets a moment go by without pressing the homosexual-positive story line.

But when bishops in the Synod Hall — as opposed to the Press Hall — are asked about that, they say that there is only little discussion about the topic — which brings up the larger question of the men the Pope has trusted and surrounded himself with. A general is only as good as his first officers, and here, too, may be another area of failure.

Insiders tells us repeatedly that Pope Francis has a governing style which is largely dependent on whether he likes a person or not. It's part of his charm, they say. So the Holy Father could like someone who is less than orthodox and give him responsibility, while at the same time not personally talking to someone who is solidly orthodox and dismiss them. This, however, could spell disaster for a man who is running a worldwide Church.

And to that point, various people are privately saying that Pope Francis is only now coming to realize that the Church is more extensive than what he could have thought while living in Argentina.

And in an interesting spin on things, many of those around who are decidedly progressive and heterodox on various points may actually be using him to advance their own liberal agenda. This has put them in the rather delicate position of trying to take honest concerns expressed by various cardinals and cast them as enemies of the Pope for speaking their concerns, when that is exactly what the Pope said the cardinals and bishops should do.

The reform-minded innovators have painted themselves into a corner. And what they are trying to do now is to find an escape hatch by declaring those who ask questions as enemies of the Pope. This is the narrative they are hurriedly constructing as a means to shut down opposition to their schemes. It's a narrative that faithful Catholics must not play into.

To slam the Pope plays right into the hands of the bad men around him, giving them the opportunity to deflect attention and point fingers at faithful criticism and label it as trying to undermine the Pope. Through their anxious and increasingly revealing attempts to portray legitimate questions the Pope himself has encouraged as dislike of the Pope — as Cdl. Donald Wuerl recently did — they reveal themselves as using the Pope more than serving him.

The Pope himself has spoken out vehemently against the evil of same-sex marriage, for example, yet there are those in his company who try to convince the world that this should be accepted, and even have Holy Communion given to them. He speaks frequently of the devil, and yet no one around him ever breathes a word about the ancient enemy. Pope Francis believes that the Church should speak more loudly about mercy, and yet there are those around him who are using that as an opportunity to excuse sin, downplay it or ignore it.

The narrative has been spun now and is locked in place. The world is expecting some kind of diminishing of Church teaching, if not in actuality, then at least in practice. But judging from the latest news inside the Synod Hall, the large majority of bishops are against any such thing. As of today, it seems that there is only a small minority of bishops who are willing to accept Holy Communion for the divorced and civilly remarried and active homosexuals.

The issue, however, for Pope Francis is that that small minority are the ones in key positions — ones he has placed there because of at least personal fondness for them. For example, while the body of 270 bishops is overwhelmingly opposed to these changes, the 10 members on the final drafting committee are wildly accepting of the changes. Because the powerful minority accept the idea of changes and the majority do not, the minority now finds itself in a difficult jam, so they have to keep moving the goalpost with regard to the final document.

Is there going to be one or not? If so, will it be voted on? Yes or no? If so, will the vote of the entire Synod be made public? Will the Pope make a final concluding speech where he accepts it? Will he simply say thank you to all the bishops and send them home? Will he make a follow-up exhortation or something different later on? If later on, how much later on?

The scheming and plotting of the men around the Pope has created a seemingly insurmountable problem for the Pope. Through their strong arming and polite bullying, they have now placed the Pope in a very difficult position on the world stage. The international press is here waiting to write their concluding story. They have been promised much by all the Pope's men: Homosexualist archbishop Bruno Forte announced on the first day, "This synod has to say something," yet the Pope may not be able to deliver what the press wants to report.

So now, the Pope is caught — thanks to those around him — and appears to have very little room to maneuver. A pope who is hemmed in on all sides is the growing perception here in Rome and the reason for the observation on the part of sources in the Vatican that he would only receive 10 votes if the conclave were held today.

There is even much talk from all quarters that, following up on his own prediction last year, the Pope may resign at some point next year — something impossible to confirm. It might still be too early to make a call on whether this papacy is a failed one or not, but for faithful Catholics, one thing is certain: We must always love and pray for the Holy Father who is besieged on so many sides.

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