By PAUL LIKOUDIS
Some conservative or so-called traditional Catholics have been grousing since the election of Pope Francis that he is steering Catholics away from positions strenuously defended by his two Predecessors, courting favor with the media by downplaying Church doctrine, giving the appearance of abandoning Church teaching on faith and morals, waving the white flag in the culture wars, expressing left-wing views on the predations of international finance and capitalism’s failures.
A “reality check” on these claims is in order.
Consider the following:
On November 14, L’Espresso’s Sandro Magister reported on an October 7 letter Pope Francis wrote to Archbishop Agostino Marchetto, in which he explicitly affirmed Pope Benedict’s view of Vatican II and the “hermeneutic of continuity.”
As English Catholic William Oddie observed in a November 19 column for the UK Catholic Herald:
“An important letter, from Pope Francis to Archbishop Agostino Marchetto, has just been published. It includes the following: ‘With these lines I wish to be close to you and join myself to the act of presentation of the book Primato pontificio ed episcopato. Dal primo millennio al Concilio ecumenico Vaticano II (‘Pontifical primacy and episcopate: from the first millennium to the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council.’) The book is a collection of essays, some by Archbishop Marchetto, in his honor. I beg you to consider myself spiritually present [there].’
“ ‘You have made [your love for the Church] manifest in many ways — above all it is manifest in all your purity in the studies made on the Second Vatican Council. I once told you, dear Archbishop Marchetto, and I wish to repeat it today, that I consider you to be the best interpreter [ermeneuta] of the Second Vatican Council.’
“With that declaration,” observed Oddie, “with his open support for this book, and with the decision to make the text of his letter public, Pope Francis is making an explicit declaration of his own ecclesial position, which he clearly expects to be noted by all: viz. that he supports Benedict XVI’s vision of the Church, and absolutely rejects the so-called ‘Spirit of Vatican II.’ There can now be no question of writing off this Holy Father as a ‘liberal Pope’: not unless you are one of the weird eccentrics who attempts to do the same for Benedict XVI himself.
“The book Pope Francis is so enthusiastically endorsing is described by its publisher, the University of Chicago Press, as an ‘important study’ which ‘makes a significant contribution to the debate that surrounds the interpretation of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council.’ Archbishop Marchetto critiques the Bologna School, which, he suggests, presents the council as a kind of ‘Copernican revolution’, a transformation to ‘another Catholicism.’ Instead Marchetto invites readers to reconsider the council directly, through its official documents, commentaries, and histories. . . .
“There’s a good bit to be said about this ‘Bologna School,’ and it can get fairly complicated,” Oddie explained. “Let’s just say that that’s who Benedict XVI was attacking in his famous address of December 2005: The Bologna School it was which invented and propagated the ‘hermeneutic of rupture,’ in the name of ‘The Spirit of Vatican II,’ which it held should supersede the actual texts of the council. Archbishop Marchetto is its bête noire.”
Pope Francis’ continuity with his immediate Predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, was illustrated in another context by economist Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, in a reflection on the encyclical Lumen Fidei, begun by Benedict and completed by Francis.
In an August 11 essay for the UK Catholic Herald, Tedeschi captured the essence of Lumen Fidei, observing that it answers the question Benedict posed in Caritas in Veritate: “What should we do?”
“Lumen Fidei,” wrote Tedeschi, an economist and banker, and former president of the Vatican Bank, the Institute for Religious Works, “outlines what we must do in order to solve the problems caused by the economic crisis — that is, regain faith.
“The economic crisis arose out of the dominant nihilism that rejects truth,” Tedeschi wrote. “So we need to regain faith, not just for our own personal salvation but also as a way of creating value for society as a whole, allowing a true pursuit of the common good. . . .
“World economic history is the story of the gradual separation of morality and economics, and the progressive moral autonomy of economics. In Caritas in Veritate Benedict XVI taught us that every economic choice has a moral impact. What’s more, every moral vision leads inexorably to certain economic choices. The Pope Emeritus also showed us that an instrument, as economics is, can’t have moral autonomy.
“If today, as you experience the economic crisis, you consider, for example, youth unemployment, you discover that it is caused by a consumer system that has, for the past 30 years, been based on immoral and unsustainable debt, which has unbalanced the global economic system.
“Accepting the idea that economics has moral autonomy has led people to believe that ‘economics and morality’ is an oxymoron. They have become accustomed to thinking that economic systems flourish best where there is no religious faith. But Lumen Fidei clearly states that faith without truth is an illusion — just a feeling. . . .
“Truth is, therefore, an indispensable reference point as we seek to make sense of various economic tools. The Church, through its teaching, sacraments, and prayers, has the great task of illuminating the meaning of life and of human actions. Thus we will be able to create a civil society in which economics will once again have its own place and due importance.
“Thanks to faith, we can develop systems able to hold together real relationships, including economic ones. Thanks to faith, we can create economic conditions that truly serve the common good. Through faith, we create the conditions in which to form and strengthen the family. That is at the core of economics: Families create wealth in countless ways, especially by having children (which means development) and educating them (which means a high quality of development). With faith, finally, we create economic value in society because we share true fraternal relations, based on the unique dignity of the person and on a shared respect for creation.”
The Reality Of The Devil
While Pope Francis on a daily basis exhorts Catholics, especially in the homilies at his daily Mass, of the need for Catholics to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, no Pope in recent memory has spoken so often as Francis has on the reality of the Devil.
In fact, as Italian Vaticanista Andrea Tornielli wrote for Vatican Insider August 20, the Holy Father told the cardinals immediately after they elected him last March: “When one does not profess Jesus Christ, one professes the worldliness of the Devil.” In doing so, Francis is heeding and repeating the warnings of Pope Paul VI, who often lamented that postconciliar churchmen and the lay faithful had forgotten about the Devil.
Noting the many references Francis made to the Devil, and how these were picked up by the press, Tornielli reported on their importance via a reflection made by Fr. Giandomenico Mucci in Civilta Cattolica.
“He wrote,” reported Tornielli that “‘for several decades, Catholic preaching has forgotten about the Devil, who is fully present in the very documents of Vatican II. Some theologians have welcomed the opinion whereby Satan is a fruit of human fantasy, a figure dreamt up in pagan areas, only to later penetrate into Jewish thought. This would explain the stir which was created among believers and nonbelievers alike when the Pope preached about the Devil.’
“Forgetting the Devil is a phenomenon which has been particularly characteristic of the last 50 years. In order to highlight this very point, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published a study in 1975, during the pontificate of Paul VI, under the title, ‘Christian faith and demonology.’ The study aimed to stymie any attempt to ‘demystify the centuries-old doctrine of the Church on Satan.’ It recalls a great many quotes from the Gospels, the Book of Revelation, the apostolic letters, the Fathers of the Church, the councils, and the papal Magisterium.
“A considerable part of Fr. Mucci’s article,” continued Tornielli, “includes long quotes from Paul VI’s famous speech, who reserved the catechesis of the general audience for this argument, stating that, ‘one of the greatest needs of the Church today is that of defending against the evil which we know to be the Devil.’ Pope Paul VI placed emphasis on the fact that ‘evil is not simply a force in the background but rather truly present, a living being who is spiritual, perverse, and who renders perverse. He is a horrifying reality, a mysterious force who spreads fear. Anyone who refuses to recognize his existence is distancing themselves from the framework of Biblical and Church teaching’.”
On Francis’ Appeal
In a perceptive column for the Internet news site Aleteia, published November 18, Alberto Gonzalez explained what conservatives can learn from Pope Francis.
“Since the beginning of his pontificate, Francis has made clear his mission to ‘go to the peripheries’ and reclaim those who, for various reasons, have grown estranged from the Church. And, for that matter, he also seeks those who have never experienced the Church’s embrace. The secret to his success lies in one key element: the focus on the human person.
“Before one can speak of matters of ideology,” wrote Gonzalez, “one must first be able and willing to show a genuine concern for the well-being of others. Francis has drawn the attention of the world — and in many cases, of those who would otherwise not pay any heed to the Successor of Peter — by stressing the message of charity, salvation, and an intimate relationship with the person of Jesus Christ. In making the other feel loved and cared for, the door to doctrine and catechesis swings open.
“This is where American conservatives would be wise to take notes. Politics and public policy exist (ideally) for the development of the common good in temporal matters. And since politics are temporal in nature, the ability to communicate how policies impact people positively in a concrete (and even material) way is key — moreover, it should be an expectation. Republicans have spent the last decade or so wallowing in stagnation, having much to say about a tired ideological platform while having little to offer in terms of real solution to real problems. This, in turn, has created a vacuum that Democrats have been able to easily occupy through the promise of handouts and immediate gratification. . . .
“As Pope Francis has shown, there must be a genuine interest in the welfare of the human person before more remote talk of ideology can have any effect. American conservatives would do well to start addressing the problems that plague the nation (and more local communities) in concrete terms: ‘This is what we propose; this is how it will benefit your community; this is why our opponents’ proposal falls short.’
“Ultimately, the human society functions as a cohesive network of interdependent individuals working toward a common good. We are made for community, but moreover, we are made for love. And in this case, love is expressed by seeking the good of the other, and by having a desire to serve his needs. This is, broadly speaking, the duty of each and every person — but, in a more particular way, it is the vocation of those in public service.
“I, for one, would like to see this ‘third way’ take shape before sounding the death knell for genuine conservatism in America — a conservatism that preserves our social institutions so that true progress can be made in addressing the challenges that lie before us,” Gonzales concluded.