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There is a lot of bellyaching going on among Catholics about a continual string of ill advised comments from Pope Francis. The comments are confusing to say the least and often times contradict previous comments he has made about the very same topic. No doubt about it, a blind man can see it.
But the industry that is developing around this thought is dangerous on a number of levels. The industry of "blast the Pope for his confusing, conflicting statements" is dangerous. In just one line of reasoning, consider this — and this is just one danger: The notion forms in people's minds that everything in the Church that is wrong can be solved by the Pope, any Pope just ordering it to be fixed.
A little history on this score: Pope Benedict once famously told a visitor to his office who was there pleading for him to do something about an unseemly situation that "my authority stops there," pointing to his office door. In a not so well-known event, Pope John Paul was presented a dossier on a homosexual bishop here in the United States — by an American cardinal. The dossier was extremely extensive and lengthy.
A few pages in, the future saint pushed the dossier back to the cardinal sitting across his desk and said, "I know all about this man. Unless you can show me some criminal activity, I am helpless." The cardinal returned to the United States and the homosexual bishop remained in his diocese until his age-imposed retirement.
Exactly what Pope John Paul meant — that is something of a mystery. But suffice it to say, none of this is as easy as it appears. When you hang around Rome long enough, and talk to others who know others and so forth, the picture is pretty clear that, rightly or wrongly, that popes believe themselves to be extremely limited in rooting out evil in the Church. Perhaps people are whispering this in their ears, making the nervous to make a move, who knows?
Recall the comments of some high-ranking curia members who, after Pope Benedict's re-advancing of the Traditional Latin Mass, said they were caught completely off guard at the opposition to it from the world's bishops. And herein lies the problem, the Pope's confusing interviews and comments notwithstanding: There is a rebellion in the ranks of the bishops against the traditional faith.
Of course, not all of them, but a sufficient number to make reform almost impossible right now, at least a reform in any meaningful way. A Pope cannot simply sack thousands of bishops around the globe. This problem has become institutionalized, metastasized into a horrible illness over the past hundred-plus years. This is why another Saint Pope, Pius X, could not arrest it, even though he tried.
He fought against the heresy of Modernism, which is in full flare today, and failed. He issued an encyclical against it, demanded his bishops around the world root it out of seminaries, made practically anyone who was a teacher of the Faith in any capacity take an oath against Modernism. In short, he did everything that people today want to see done by the Pope, any Pope — and it accomplished nothing.
Too many of the bishops are in revolt against the Faith, either directly or suffering from the delusion that becoming a more friendly, accommodating Church in word and liturgy will make the problems go away. So to continue to focus on Pope Francis completely misses the point, whether the comments and concerns are real or not.
The problem is a universal local problem, everywhere — a problem of disobedience. Pope Francis is not the one looking the other way about gay clubs in Catholic parishes under the guise of "ministry." Pope Francis is not giving a wink and a nod to active homosexual clergy being protected by their chanceries, like in New York prominently, but all over the West. Pope Francis is not the one cheering the support of an openly homosexual group in a parade dedicated to a saint — and he sure isn't leading the parade as Grand Marshal.
Pope Francis isn't the one giving a pass to the National Office of the Knights of Columbus when it comes to traitorous Catholics in their membership. Pope Francis isn't the one who schedules or permits near-heretics a platform to speak at Catholic conferences all over the country. It ain't Pope Francis on the boards of all these Catholic colleges inviting enemies of the Church to speak at graduations.
The list could go on and on, but you get the point. The problem any pope faces, has faced or will face for the foreseeable future is that no matter what he does or doesn't do, the spirit of disobedience and rebellion rampant in the ecclesiastical ranks isn't going anywhere. The danger of always pointing to Rome, always saying the Pope is a heretic, the Pope is confusing, the Pope is this, the Pope is that, is that the Pope isn't the problem — just an easy target.
When outfits like EWTN start talking about confusing things the Pope is saying, the question needs to be asked: Where have you been all these years when hundreds of bishops have let the Church deteriorate and rot on the vine? Is that just a case of chest pounding to act all tough now because they have tested the winds and realize that their audience doesn't like some of what the Pope says?
There certainly hasn't been any history of talking about the millions of problems caused by errant, wicked, unfaithful, delusional bishops — and understand this very clearly — they have and continue to be the problem, not the Pope. Popes come and popes go, but disobedience remains.
But you will not hear a word about this bad bishop or that bad bishop because the establishment Catholic crowd knows which side its bread is buttered on. It's easy to sit across the Atlantic and point out errors, confusing statements, etc., because the Pope isn't listening to them and won't lean on them. Likewise, for the so-called traditional blogs out there that fancy themselves the saviors of the Church, get real. All your incessant bile creates is worse conditions for any future cleaning of the Church because you have now created and inculcated a culture of suspicion surrounding whoever the next Pope will be.
But writing articles on some obscure bishop in some B- or C-level diocese who punishes his priests who want to say the Novus Ordo Mass facing East won't get you nearly the clicks that a headline like "Anti-Christ Pope Still a Heretic."
Years before the controversies around Pope Francis, before he was known anywhere outside of Argentina, Church Militant was saying the problem in the Church is unfaithful bishops, weak bishops, career-minded bishops and ignorant bishops. What if the Pope came out tomorrow and said no more Holy Communion in the hand, no more altar girls, no more heretics speaking at the L.A. Archdiocese Religious Education Conference, no more cardinals leading parades with gays, no more horrible catechesis being taught in schools (provided he would even know any of this) — what if he came out and did all this? Do you really think your local bishop in your local diocese, or the national conferences of Catholic bishops in all sorts of countries, would give it the slightest attention?
Pope Paul VI came out with an actual teaching about birth control, and they told him to drop dead. And in case you're looking for proof of their disobedience, remember the situation of the Latin Mass. They have ignored to almost the last detail the expressed will of the Holy Father Pope Benedict to be generous in offering it. How many seminaries across the United States teach the Tridentine Mass to their seminarians? You can count them one one hand.
If the Pope said and did all these things, the bishops would just wait him out. The average reign of a pope isn't that long. Pope St. John Paul was an enormous exception. Most popes last less than eight years. They would form committees to "study" the instructions. They would assemble theologians to "consider" the issues. They would call meetings and then postpone them one after another. And when they would eventually have their meetings, they would release garbage statements that the meeting has produced the need for further meetings.
There was a great wrestling at Vatican II between bishops and Rome. The bishops wanted more room to flex their muscles, wanted to feel more in control, not domineered by Rome.
The bishops won. They ran back to their dioceses and flexed their muscles so much that they pummeled the Faith. And they are not about to give back that control, so they play politics and pretend they are doing this or accomplishing that, but in reality, they are running things the way they want, and Rome be damned.
When Bill Clinton ran for President in 1992, he knew one thing and said an additional thing. He won because he understood that all politics is really local and that the issue was: "It's the economy, stupid."
Well, all the problems in the Church are local — and it's the bishops. It's the bishops. It's the bishops.
Attacking the Pope is the easy way out. The carpet bombing of Rome deflects form the real issue. It's the disobedient bishops.