I’ve generally abstained from commenting on what is going on in the Catholics Church, mainly out of sympathy for my Catholic collaborators on this site, but also because it is hard to find anything to say which is charitable. Damian Thompson, writing in this week’s Spectator has an excellent piece which prompts me to say a few things.
In the first place Dr Thompson is on the money when he describes the problem thus:
No pontiff in living memory has awakened the specific fear now spreading around the church: that the magisterium, the teaching authority vested in Peter by Jesus, is not safe in his hands.
It is necessary to remember that the Pope is not the Church, and right to emphasise that he pronounces infallibly only under certain conditions. But common sense tells us that a Pope with this sort of media profile can do an awful lot of damage, not least because most folk don’t understand these limits. So, you get old Elton John saying that Pope Francis is his ‘hero’ because he is
“ally” against conservative bishops in Africa in his views on same-sex relationships.
“My sly bet is yes he is. He’s just had the [synod] in Rome and I think he’s fighting an uphill battle against the African cardinals and bishops.”
If John considers ‘Francis is on our side’ then he is wrong, because there is no sign that even Rambling Pope Frank wants to go that far – but what matters is that men like Elton John think otherwise. This, naturally, makes many faithful Catholics fearful; what if Francis is on that side of the argument?
Most likely, it seems to me, Rambling Pope Frank likes shooting from the mouth and then seeing what happens. That’s one of the few rational explanations for his habit of talking to the Communist atheists nonagenarian Scalfari, who has just told us all that the Pope favours access to Communion for divorced Catholics. The most over-worked communications officer in the world, Fr Lombardi, has weighed in to say that the report is ‘not reliable’. The only clear thing here is that the Pope is as reliable as a wonky Fiat (motto, ‘Fix it again Toni’).
If Dr Thompson is right, then, as he puts it, we have:
the successor of Peter is acting like a politician, picking fights with opponents, tantalising the public with soundbites and ringing up journalists with startling quotes that his press officer can safely retract. He is even hinting that he disagrees with the teachings of his own church.
It’s no wonder that many Catholics are disturbed and suspicious; there is much about this fellow that inspires both. The fellow talks a lot about being a shepherd, but I’m not clear he’s any idea what the job involves? It certainly does not consist of disturbing the sheep and mentioning ‘roast lamb’ a lot.
For those of us outside the Catholic Church, there’s nothing new in what Catholics are seeing here. The Anglicans have seen their Church effectively hollowed out, with the actual doctrinal content of the faith so watered down it can mean almost whatever anyone wants it to mean; most others have. The demands of the world are incessant. It does not want to hear about ‘sin’, and it sees no use in ‘repentance’. it wants, nay it demands, a Jesus who never said anything about not everyone being saved, and it wants a Jesus who said to sinner ‘hey, who are we to judge, just make sure you have a good time and don’t harm anyone – lurve is all – whatever lurve means.’ Since it can’t find him in Scripture, it insists on a post-modern reading thereof into which they can inject the Jesus of their imagining. Anyone contradicting this will not be popular. Look what they did to Jesus, after all?
The problem in any Church is one of authority. If we believe that we have the Spirit in us, and He guides us to understand Scripture, we have, as Chalcedon wrote here yesterday, to make sure we ground that reading in what the Christian faith has always professed. A Pope who finds that difficult may well be in the wrong job.