A bitter struggle for the soul of Catholicism

Brendan Hoban              
Western People 9th June 2020

One of the most baffling features of Irish life is the reluctance of the Irish Catholic Church to take the side that the pontificate of Pope Francis represents. Francis wants us, as a church, to rediscover and implement the insights of the Second Vatican Council – for so long moth-balled by his predecessors – to focus on protecting planet earth, to place the poor at the centre of our concerns, to breathe new life into the concept of mercy, to emphasise a synodal (or group)  approach to decision-making and to find new ways of spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Francis’s agenda, to use that term, is clearly accepted by the vast majority of Catholics and he’s a hugely popular and captivating presence wherever he goes and yet, peculiarly, when it comes to taking a lead from him, at a time when the Irish Church is almost running on empty we seem reluctant to respond to the opportunity and the challenge he represents.

The reason, I think, is that too much attention at too great a cost is being given to those who want the Irish Catholic Church, not to survive or possibly thrive in the twenty-first century but to return to the nineteenth.

There is, as the dogs in the street know, a struggle going on for the soul of Catholicism. And at the heart of it are two views of the world and two approaches to the Second Vatican Council (Vatican Two). On one side are progressives or reformers like Pope Francis seeking to embed the Council’s vision of opening the Church to the world. On the other side are Pope Benedict and the ‘neo-traditionalists’ who see the Church as being against the world and who question the wisdom of the Council.

While Benedict is careful not be seen opposing Francis, there’s no doubt but that’s what he’s doing and that’s clear when his coded messages are unpacked. For example, recently Benedict – in a letter to mark the centenary of the birth of Pope John Paul II – praised him for being a ‘restorer’ who had brought order and discipline after the turbulence of the Council.

By implication this means that Francis who’s ‘restoring’ the vision of Vatican Two to centre-stage in the Catholic Church is bringing disorder, indiscipline and turbulence to the Church. The message from Benedict is crystal clear – Francis is taking the wrong road. Don’t go there.

When Francis is attacked his tactic seems to be to remain silent but inwardly he must be seething that Benedict who promised to spend his retirement in quiet prayer is instead effectively undermining him and operating as the leader of the Pope’s opposition.

A recent example of the guerrilla tactics the opposition to Francis now employs was the open letter in early May ‘to all Catholics and People of Good Will’ organised by the retired papal diplomat, Archbishop Carlo Vigano – the man who launched a bitter attack on Francis at the end of his Irish visit and issued it to coincide with Francis’ usual meeting the media on the plane home from Ireland. It was a blatant attempt to inflict maximum damage on Pope Francis and his reforms.

The letter suggested, bizarrely, that there was a worldwide conspiracy to use the coronavirus pandemic to restrict people’s basic rights ‘unjustifiably and disproportionately’. It was a clear rebuff to Francis who has accepted, as most sensible people do, that restrictions of individual rights are needed in the present crisis.

The letter went on to say that the contagiousness of the virus has been vastly exaggerated and that imposing lock-downs was ‘a disturbing prelude to a realisation of a world government beyond all control’. This, it continued, would mean erasing ‘centuries of Christian civilisation’ and establishing ‘an odious technological tyranny’ in its stead.

This, of course, is utter nonsense, and part of a number of crude conspiracy theories with no verifiable credibility that feed into the fears of overly-pious, innocent and credulous people. It would suggest, bringing it closer to home, that Dr Tony Holohan, instead of struggling on behalf of the Irish people to minimise the death-toll from a vicious virus, is part of a worldwide conspiracy to establish a global government in order to erase ‘centuries of Christian civilisation’.

Quite something to believe but run-of the-mill stuff for the conspiracy theorists.

The letter is signed by the usual retinue opposed to Francis, including Cardinal Gerhard Muller, who wasn’t re-appointed to a key Vatican post by Francis and who, when he discovered the reaction in his native Germany, attempted to distance himself from it. It is supported too by American ultra-conservative, ‘alt-right’ Catholics, some of whom believe that being rich is a sign of God’s favour and who oppose Francis placing the poor at the heart of the Church’s mission, as well as by ambitious Vatican officials frantically waiting for Francis to die so they can dis-assemble his reforms to date.

Ironically, when Popes John Paul and Benedict were in office, those now undermining Francis were the very people who were quick to dismiss anyone who sought to raise a question as ‘disobedient to the Holy Father’ though apparently such sensitivities no longer apply to them.

The daft Vigano letter, has had the effect of making those opposed to Francis look spectacularly foolish and has also reminded us once again of the high price our Church is paying for indulging the irrational theories of extreme Catholics who would have us believe anything.

Chickens, I’m afraid, coming home to roost.

Similar Posts


  1. Paddy Ferry says:

    An excellent piece, Brendan and all so true. The new Vigano/Trump alliance can only be good news for Francis.

  2. Lloyd Allan MacPherson says:

    For Benedict and Francis to get anything going on this highly distracted planet, there is a good chance that a divide and conquer approach is needed.

    One thing is for sure, things have come full circle in Canada. I truly believe this would have been accelerated at one point had a certain country’s Catholic population rallied, especially towards solar and circularity.

    Here is a timeline of events as it pertains to their (Benedict/Francis) plan to enact an important paradigm shift on the planet:

    Imagine this in a movie:
    2012: Pope Francis’s chief adviser gets a phone call. It’s intense and states that he’s going to be getting some information via his website over the next few years or however long it takes.
    2013: A message on the website appears from an unknown relating the Convention on Genocide and children ingesting endocrine-disrupting chemicals.
    2013: Pope Francis is elected.
    2014?: Chief adviser is picked.
    2015: they collaborate and create an encyclical on the environment with attention to economics – circular, regenerative.
    2015: Global Catholic Climate Movement is formed and near loses their first international meeting by virtue of sabotage – anonymous caller intervenes and produces all relevant documents for the meet.
    2015: Petition is distributed to affluent families on the planet – in Assisi Italy
    2012?: flashback: women and children are starting to form the litigious backbone of a global youth v. gov lawsuit.
    2015: Dr. James Hansen delivers Exhibit A to courts in New York – youth v. government has arrived.
    2016: promise is made to bring youth v. gov to Canada in 2018
    2018: Extinction Rebellion forms in the UK – October 31
    2019: Queen declares climate emergency under weight of protests for the environment in the UK
    2019: Newcastle study on plastics appears showing ingestion amounts unhealthy – ocean conditions worsen. IDUM.org comes into the periphery – underwater munitions at the 100s of millions of tonnes also contributing to the ocean collapse.
    2019: Royal couple move to Canada
    2019: lawsuit – youth v. gov arrives in Canada – October 23
    2019: one week later legislation is passed in Nova Scotia
    2019: Legislation is circular – regenerative economics with Netukulimk attachment (the reparative economy the kids are looking for in the lawsuit)
    2019: Royal Ascent October 30.
    2020: Youth v Government is removed from courts in the USA

    So the USA, is this some sort of judgment that is being enacted on them?
    Curious minds want to know…

  3. Sean O'Conaill says:

    But wait, Brendan. Not only are our bishops now fully behind synodality, they have always been there. As proof of their more-than-readiness for the next (2022) Vatican synod – on synodality – they remind us of the following in their report on last week’s virtual meeting of the Irish Bishops Conference:

    “In recent years in Ireland many bishops have organised assemblies, gatherings and deep-listening processes in their dioceses to help encourage a more synodal, missionary Church throughout the island – a Church which fosters greater ‘communion, participation and mission’ for the benefit of all.


    Last night, in honour of this press release, we two members of the merely baptised watched the 1944 movie ‘Gaslight’ – in which the heroine is led to believe she is losing her mind by inexplicable changes in the brightness of the said gaslight – caused by her plotting husband.

    ‘Gaslighting’ has now become a standard descriptor for the official practice of denying forever what everyone can see – e.g. the large areas of unoccupied ground facing the Trump inauguration in Jan 2017 – declared by presidential press agent Sean Spicer to be ‘the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period.’

    No doubt that there will now be here an avalanche of ‘fake news’ from people insisting that their own Irish diocese has never since 1965 experienced ‘deep listening‘. They too are quite obviously losing their minds and missing what was always right in front of them.

    Come back, Ingrid Bergman – we all miss you!

  4. Eileen Clear says:

    I welcomed Archbishop Gregory’s statement but I have not yet heard any Church leader condemn the American President’s abuse of the Bible as blasphemy. Because, given Trump’s appallingly unChristian stance on so many issues – mentioned in the comments above – that is what it was.

  5. Eileen Clear says:

    Sorry – my comment above refers to another article on this site. (My mistake). So I’ll comment briefly on this one. Fr. Brendan voices the concerns of those (myself among them) who lament the dismal failure of some Church leaders to take seriously the exhortations of Vatican 2 and the opposition experienced by Pope Francis in bringing about the recommended reforms. We need prophetic voices such as those of Frs. Brendan Hoban, Roy Donovan and others, if only to be comforted by the knowledge that there are still people who care!

  6. Darlene Starrs says:

    With all due respect Father Hoban, I no longer believe that Pope Francis is a reformer. I just scanned the statement from the A.C.P. when Pope Francis said No to women deacons. Catholics are held captive to flawed theology that flows from too many clerics in charge who do not have a living and genuine relationship with Jesus Christ. I’m afraid the prognosis for the Church surviving and thriving with the Lord’s favour is grim, unless,we experience a new amazing grace from those who are supposed to be manifesting the leadership of Christ and not simply clinging to worldly power.
    It’s so sad and regrettable to see where we have evolved as a Church, even with Vatican II.

  7. Brendan Cafferty says:

    Thanks Fr Brendan for setting out some salient matters so well.Talking about the Restoration we are reminded of the Bourbons of medieval France,”They have learned nothing and forgotten nothing”. Many people would be unaware of Archbishop Vigano’s theory about Covid 19,he above all people would have been aware of the devastation caused in Italy due to this horrible virus when they hardly had time to bury their dead with Army trucks taking away bodies for cremation and mass graves.We must go with science,Grassy Knoll theories should be beyond a person of this former diplomat’s standing. But then we all recall his damaging statement released when Pope Francis was on his way back to Rome from Ireland in order to do him maximum damage.It is a pity Francis’s exhortations for the future of the Church are not taken more seriously, time is of the essence and there is not much of it left.

Join the Discussion

Keep the following in mind when writing a comment

  • Your comment must include your full name, and email. (email will not be published). You may be contacted by email, and it is possible you might be requested to supply your postal address to verify your identity.
  • Be respectful. Do not attack the writer. Take on the idea, not the messenger. Comments containing vulgarities, personalised insults, slanders or accusations shall be deleted.
  • Keep to the point. Deliberate digressions don't aid the discussion.
  • Including multiple links or coding in your comment will increase the chances of it being automati cally marked as spam.
  • Posts that are merely links to other sites or lengthy quotes may not be published.
  • Brevity. Like homilies keep you comments as short as possible; continued repetitions of a point over various threads will not be published.
  • The decision to publish or not publish a comment is made by the site editor. It will not be possible to reply individually to those whose comments are not published.