Enemies at the Gate

Pope Francis has a lot of enemies at the gate    Western People July 28th, 2020

It’s hard to believe but there are people who argue that the whole COVID-19 crisis isn’t a crisis at all. There’s no coronavirus, no deaths, no need for a vaccine. It’s just a flu. The people who are dying would be dying anyway because of some underlying condition. It’s all a conspiracy put about for XXXXXX reasons.
Depending on the conspirators, you fill in the XXXXXX blank: China taking over the world, heretics taking over the Catholic Church, people with agendas proposing ‘fake news’ or whatever your local conspirator is having himself.

It’s hard to believe because the evidence for it is so obvious: a world-wide pandemic; 15 million confirmed cases and 617,000 deaths. With the worst will in the world and juggling the figures to suggest the best (as Trump does in America) it demands a spectacular leap of faith to conclude that this is not happening at all. Fake news.
All the money being spent to control the virus, all the economies in difficulty as a result, all the excitement about possible vaccines, are all unnecessary because politicians, medical experts and almost everyone else can’t see what’s obvious to the conspiracy theorists.

Of course, there’s no arguing with a conspiracy theorist. They exist in an alternative world, where what makes sense to most people never makes sense to them. And, as Nature abhors a vacuum, television stations, publications and other media move in to create a ‘conspiracy industry’ and to indulge its very strange disciples.

With religion, of course, we’re in even stranger territory. Since Pope Francis was elected pope and has sought to implement the reforms envisaged by the Second Vatican Council, (side-lined so effectively by his predecessors),  a lively debate on his unexpected reform programme has spawned a series of theories as to what’s going on and why.

The explanation takes different forms: he’s not the real pope (Benedict is); he’s not like Popes Benedict and John Paul II; he’s an old man who has lost the run of himself; he doesn’t know any better;  he’s doing what he’s told by XXXXXX; he’s a communist in league with XXXXXX; and, finally, he’s a heretic.

It’s all nonsense, of course, as most Catholics can see for themselves.
To most people two things are obvious: (i) the documents of the Second Vatican Council – voted through overwhelmingly in a General Council by the pope and bishops of the world-wide Church and thus officially ‘Catholic teaching’ – constitute the officially designated text-book for the Catholic Church into the future; and, (ii), Francis is shaping his reform around them and, it’s clear, has the over-whelming support of Catholics around the world.

But here’s the thing. There is, in fact, a real conspiracy at work here. Those who oppose the Francis reforms (from a range of different perspectives) are clearly organising a campaign to ensure that the next pope is made in their own image and likeness, a Benedict or a John Paul figure rather than another Francis.

No official announcement of the launch of a campaign has been made because unlike a few cardinals who have no problem in criticising Francis, others seem to be skirting the edges of this campaign, furtively (though progressively less furtively) adding their support if not their public voices.

The campaign has two points of convergence: the Vatican and the USA.

Francis has long criticised the culture of ambition and clericalism (or precedence) of the Roman Curia and is taking steps to introduce wide-ranging reforms. He set up a group of eight cardinals to advise him and the word in Rome is that he is about to announce his reforms within a matter of weeks.

The Catholic Church in America, from this side of the Atlantic, often seems to see itself as supporting values that curiously seem out of sync with Christian ideals: wealth as God’s blessing, poverty as the fault of the poor, a culture of violence, a refusal to accept that capital punishment is against Catholic teaching and a worrying level of Catholic support for Trump’s strange and sometimes immoral agenda.

The Vatican/American axis seems to be the fulcrum around which a campaign is in train to ensure that Pope Francis is not succeeded by a like-minded reforming pope. Part of the process is profiling possible cardinal successors, investigating their conservative or liberal credentials and sharing the data with cardinal-voters.

Part of the problem for this group is that they have little purchase on either reality or substance.

Their leaders are not widely respected.
Archbishop Vigano regularly excoriates Francis in public pronouncements (as when he released the letter attempted to embarrass Francis on the flight home from Ireland last year) and those in the know say he is unhappy that he hasn’t made more progress in the Church. Cardinal Muller‘s term as the head of an important Vatican congregation wasn’t renewed by Francis.
Cardinal Sarah seems out of touch with the realities of church life (as evidenced by his efforts to get priests to say Mass facing east).
Cardinal Dolan upset a lot of people by his recent fawning admiration for the ‘leadership of President Trump’.
The ‘Catholic television network, EWTN, in a recent interview with Trump, failed to clarify the record when Trump said that a recent letter of support from Vigano was an endorsement from the Catholic Church! And a representative of Fox News, a great supporter of Trump’s ‘fake news’ nonsense, signed a recent letter of Vigano supporters.

When Benedict was pope, cardinals were falling over themselves hanging on to his every word, delivering reprimands to those who questioned papal tactics and giving sermonettes on loyalty and obedience to the pope. Now with a pope singing from a different hymn-sheet, for some of his cardinals loyalty and obedience seem to be less important.

Along the lines of the old joke that just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean that they’re not out to get you, Francis clearly believes that even though his critics dishonour him in their disloyalty and disobedience, he insists on honouring them with the courtesy of his silence.


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  1. Paddy Ferry says:

    An excellent article, Brendan. I have American cousins, devout Catholics, who are huge Trump supporters and they will hear no criticism of him.

    Did you notice where, recently, that great admirer of Trump’s leadership and wisdom, Cardinal Dolan, circulated to the entire college of cardinals copies of the latest piece of nonsense produced by George Weigel, his new book, The Next Pope, which basically tells us how everything in the past was fine and, hopefully, the next pope will make it all fine again. What a load of arrogant nonsense and I think one of Francis’ own favourite words, narcissism, fits the bill as well.

    However, Francis must be close now to having the numbers in place for the next conclave to deliver Francis II.

  2. Sean O’Conaill says:

    ‘What happened to Sin?’ asked Sean Fagan. He was detailing the debacle that followed Humanae Vitae, the focussing of the church’s moral opprobrium onto dissent from that encyclical.

    Who remembers now when to ‘dissent’ was the very, very worst thing anyone could do? And Irish doctrinal vigilantes were hot on the trail of our own most dreadful ‘dissenters’.

    This was not cafeteria Catholicism, obviously. It was Haute Cuisine Catholicism – the very old editing of the decalogue that began when mendicant apostles in danger of immolation gave way after 312 CE to static grandees receiving rents – so sure of their own immunity from temptation that they could get into competitive cathedral building without realising that pride and covetousness had taken over. And wax endlessly indignant about the immorality of the people.

    ‘Pride’ gets just a few obscure lines now in the Catechism, and ‘covetousness’ has been ousted completely, to be replaced by ‘avarice’ – something else entirely. To covet is not to fixate on hoarding but to want what your neighbour has – e.g. a reputation for the finest cathedral building or the purest expression of the faith. Or the office of bishop of Rome, in preference to that Argentinian underminer of the prestige of that great office!

    Nothing more clearly defines Haute Cuisine Catholicism than that disappearance of ‘covetousness’ from the Catechism, but the coming of Francis presages its rehabilitation, as did Evangelii Gaudium in its indictment’ of ‘looking to one another for glory’ – Jesus’s pinpointing of what drives ambition. Envy of a reigning pope, or of any other holder of high office, is the seedbed of all current intrigue and malice – and the wellspring of the Vigano letter in August 2018.

    If Cardinal Dolan could not see episcopal pride and the doctrinal fixation with sexuality and Humanae Vitae as the sources of Ireland’s Catholic catastrophe he was surely the right person to send here in 2011 as a ‘visitator’ in the wake of the Ryan and Murphy reports. Scapegoats were needed, and they obviously couldn’t be bishops who shared the fashionable distaste for ‘dissent’. Who better than the very villain who had asked ‘What Happened to Sin?’ and his cronies?

    Already, of course, victims of clerical abuse had revealed pride as the disabling flaw in episcopal handling of that issue, globally. Both pride and covetousness are endemic in all institutions that attach prestige rather than accountability to ‘high office’ – the root of the alienation that had almost emptied so many Irish churches even before the Covid crisis.

    Sean Fagan was sure that eventually the concept of sin would be rehabilitated – his final chapter in ‘What Happened to Sin?’ And so it will. The pride that cannot see the beam in its own eye, and the covetousness that fuels all rivalry, are too rampant now to be missed, while ‘dissent’ never gets even a mention.

  3. Eddie Finnegan says:

    With all of that, Sean@2, I agree totally – even though ‘mimetic’ never gets even a mention!

  4. Jerry Peth says:

    People all over the world are spending hours everyday watching their favorite political news channels and minutes reading their bibles. I’m a devout American Catholic that realizes that the views professed by our two major political parties do not align completely with the Gospels and as such I’m left wanting. Political conversations between Cathoics today do not have the ring of “Love your neighbor as God has loved you” but more so of a “parroting” of political news show.s! I’m looking forward to voting in the Fall.

    Pope Francis hurrah!

  5. Joe O'Leary says:

    Brendan, you hit so many nails on the head here. Because the virus is invisible it reproduces even in learned and intelligent minds the same syndrome as religion does, a mixture of hard-man scepticism and outrageous credibility. Their thinking goes wonky.

    Massimo Faggioli names one of the new heresies Francis is accused of “communialism in the hand”, which sounds as horrible as “utraquism”.

    As to Vatican II, it has been so successfully derided that in upholding it one sounds like the last fan of Hillary Clinton.

    The surrealism of these controversies is matched only by the flailing of the failing POTUS.

    To what extent are parish congregations in Ireland infested with this conspiracy plague?

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