Dr Peter Kwasniewski writes for The Remnant — [I drafted the following text on August 6, 2016, but never published it. When reviewing it and slightly updating it in December 2019, I was struck by how much worse the situation has become since the summer of 2016, and how all of my evaluations had been confirmed by subsequent events. Although this document could be considerably expanded, it is better to leave it as a brisk pencil portrait of a Roman Pontiff who would beat the worst Renaissance popes at their own game.]
IT HAS BECOME fashionable to say that Pope Francis is not a liturgical revolutionary. It’s true that he did not rush at the traditional rites of the Church with jackhammer and dynamite the way Paul VI did, leaving a pile of rubble and a sign marked (with mordant irony) “Renewal.” But in his own more devious way, he has made a series of strategic moves that seek to canonize the revolution and immobilize the opposition.
Since the religious are the heart of the Church, any lasting renewal must come from religious orders; therefore Francis has made it his special care to obstruct their progress.
The attack on the religious life so far has had three prongs.
- The suppression of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate. Imagine if the popes in the 13th century had chosen not to support Francis and Dominic. That’s what happened this time under Bergoglio. One of the most vibrant and growing orders in the Church was quashed because it had rediscovered and embraced the traditional liturgy. This was meant as a shot across the bow: “You existing orders, do not imagine you can take up again the old Mass. If you do, you know what fate awaits you. Those of you who are being permitted to use the old Mass, be careful not to cross me.” Thus the religious life is bullied into silence. How many times have I heard priests and religious confide to me: “If we did (thus-and-such)? Or said (this-and-that)? Well, then we’d suffer the same fate as the FFI.”
- The creation of stricter rules about bishops erecting institutes in their dioceses. It is true that this limitation cuts against any new orders, whatever perspective they may have. But since the most vigorous new blood in the Church is traditionalist, it is primarily directed at them (without seeming to be so).
- The step taken against the spread of traditional contemplative sisters through Vultus Dei Quaerere and Cor Orans. This is perhaps the most diabolical of all the things he has done to date.
If one wishes to prop up the liturgical revolution so that it may last, if it were humanly possible, until the end of time, one has to take steps to ensure that its false principles and tendencies are promoted—or at least that their dismantling, which had seemed a real possibility under Benedict, is made exceedingly difficult. Francis has made several moves on this front.
- He first treated the rule about the washing of the feet (that only men, viri, should be chosen) with contempt, to show that violating liturgical rubrics is no big deal and that the people of God had outgrown such legalism. In this way he deliberately set a bad example (except that he seems to have thought it was a good example).
- He then changed the rule about the washing of the feet (women may be included, but only “the faithful”), so that it would advance the feminist agenda and the dissolution of liturgical symbolism and tradition. Of course, he proceeded to violate this new rule, as well, which inculcates contempt for rules in general.
- He pushed through a commission on deaconesses for no other reason, as far as anyone can tell, than to destabilize the faithful’s convictions about the maleness of the hierarchy. This, of course, plays into the same feminist agenda. It is like saying: “You conservatives don’t like female altar girls? You trads don’t like women in the sanctuary at all? Well, guess what: not only are you forever going to have women acting like clergy, but I’m going to make a big deal about whether women can become clergy.” In this way he is signifying his contempt of the “hermeneutic of continuity” project. The Amazon Synod, then, came along to put the icing on the cake.
- The infamous Lombardi “clarification” (emanating from Francis) rebuking Cardinal Sarah for three things—recommending ad orientem, promoting the “reform of the reform” (ROTR), and endorsing the so-called Extraordinary Form—was the final twisting of the knife. Since ad orientem is the fundamental symbol of traditional Christian worship, as embodied in the old Roman Rite and sought for in the (admittedly floundering) ROTR movement, this amounts to a declaration of war against traditional worship as such.
Authentic renewal comes by way of bishops. This is why Bergoglio has also destabilized the episcopacy.
- He has made it easier, canonically, to yank traditional bishops from their sees on the slightest pretexts. In order to show that this is in fact his intention, he has yanked some of the best bishops from their sees, even though they had been guilty of far less bad behavior than certain liberal bishops whose positions have never been threatened. In this way, the Pope has signified to traditionally-minded bishops: “Beware of what you do, for the Vatican is watching.”
- He is encouraging “decentralization,” which means empowering episcopal conferences to push their progressive agendas down the throats of unwilling conservatives. An indication of the likely results can be seen in the motu proprio Magnum Principium, turning over the approval of translations to episcopal conferences, without a Vatican doctrinal control. (We may be tempted to say that the Vatican control is not reliable any more, and that is true at the moment; but the CDW and the CDF when well staffed have prevented a great deal of liturgical nonsense that bubbled up from the lower levels.)
- Francis relies on Wuerl and Cupich as bishop-makers, in order to recast the most influential local church, the American, in his own image and likeness, since it is rather too evident that he dislikes it as it stands. Since the traditional renewal is happening most of all in America, it was necessary to do all in his power to prevent its future growth. The easiest and most effective way to do this without drawing too much attention to himself is to ensure that American bishops are either progressives who hate the traditional liturgy or mild-mannered neo-conservatives who will do nothing to promote it.
Finally, renewal takes hold in the family and spreads through godly children. Thus Bergoglio had to aim his poison-tipped arrows at the mystery of marriage.
- With the “reform” of the annullment process, he has welcomed the evil of no-fault divorce into the bosom of the Church. We have had this problem de facto for many decades, but popes always protested against it. The current pope endorses it, as he seems to entertain doubts about the validity of a great many marriages.
- With the two Synods on the Family, the Synod on Youth, and the Amazon Synod, he has destabilized public perception of Catholic teaching and the adherence of the People of God to moral doctrine.
- With Amoris Laetitia he created a masterpiece of postconciliar ambiguity that encourages clergy to continue in their laxism, while bringing a haze of uncertainty, sentimentalism, and pragmatism to the entire area of morality. In this way, his moral vision perfectly complements his liturgical vision, and both are supported by his ecclesiology.
With the cleverness of a serpent in the garden, Pope Francis has, through all of these steps, played upon the gullibility and credulity of faithful Catholics, the majority of whom will, he knows, follow him like witless sheep. The result has been an utter polarization among Catholics: an earnest minority who support and defend him (or at least find plausible ways to write him off), an equally earnest minority who see his plan and oppose it with all their might, and a majority who care very little about these issues and tend to view the pope as a benign grandfather who blesses their hedonism and relativism.
I have not even touched here on Bergoglio’s errors about God, Christ, the Scriptures, and Catholic social teaching. (See “Denzinger Bergoglio” for a more thorough treatment.)
No one could write a dystopic novel as dystopic as our current situation is: a pope who holds what Robert Hugh Benson’s Antichrist holds; a society wedded to every vice and calling it virtue; a Church confused about its very identity and cut off from its tradition.
Never have we had a pope who is so wrong about so many things. He has earned infamy and perdition. May God have mercy on his soul before he departs this life.
It will take a pope of the stature of Gregory the Great, Gregory IX, Innocent III, Pius V, or Pius X to set the Barque of the Church back on course again. Indeed, it will take several such popes. May Our Lord in His infinite mercy grant them to us, in spite of our unworthiness. Dixi.
[Dr. Peter Kwasniewski, Thomistic theologian, liturgical scholar, and choral composer, is a graduate of Thomas Aquinas College and The Catholic University of America. He has taught for the International Theological Institute in Austria, the Franciscan University of Steubenville’s Austria Program, and Wyoming Catholic College, which he helped establish in 2006. He writes regularly for blogs, magazines, and newspapers, and has published nine books, four of which concern traditional Catholicism. Visit his website at www.peterkwasniewski.com.]