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A Book Review… A Credible, Devastating Papal Portrait

April 29, 2018 Frontpage No Comments


Colonna, Marcantonio. The Dictator Pope: The Inside Story of the Francis Papacy. Washington, D.C. Regnery: 2018; 232 pp. Available at

As the reign of Pope Francis moves into its sixth year, a growing body of analysis has appeared seeking to explain just what’s going on in the Vatican, where a crescendo of confusion and distrust clearly prevails. And the state of Church teaching isn’t much better.
Enter Marcantonio Colonna, the pseudonym of celebrated English historian Henry Sire. Sire’s new book, Dictator Pope, attempts to explain not only how, but why the Church seems to be in such disarray. As a historian, he focuses not on theological controversies, but on probing the facts and personalities surrounding them.
And be warned: A stalwart Catholic, Sire does not come to praise Francis, he tells The Wanderer, but “to inform, and to make the Church aware of the huge mistake that was made in 2013 with the election of Bergoglio.” His goal: to penetrate the fog with which Francis has shrouded Catholic teaching in its own terms, as well as to shed light on the duplicitous Peronist cynicism that Sire sees as the Francis papacy’s dynamic engine.
For Sire, Pope Francis is “not the democratic, liberal ruler that the cardinals thought they were electing in 2103, but a papal tyrant the like of whom has not been seen for many centuries.” He fully intends to prove his point and he begins at the beginning:
“If you speak to the Catholics of Buenos Aires, they will tell you of the miraculous change that has taken over Jorge Mario Bergoglio. Their dour, unsmiling archbishop was turned overnight into the smiling, jolly Pope Francis, the idol of the people with whom he so fully identifies. If you speak to anyone working in the Vatican, they will tell you about the miracle in reverse. When the publicity cameras are off him, Pope Francis turns into a different figure: arrogant, dismissive of people, prodigal with bad language, and notorious for furious outbursts of temper which are known to everyone from the cardinals to the chauffeurs.”
Sire explains this seeming contradiction by describing Francis’ as a combination of Argentine strongman Juan Peron’s cynical populism, Jesuit training, and a home-grown version of a facile dialectic of rank opportunism.
He offers a brief but vital lesson on Peronismo:
The story is told that Peron, in his days of glory, once proposed to induct a nephew in the mysteries of politics. He first brought the young man with him when he received a deputation of Communists; after hearing their views, he told them, “You’re quite right.” The next day he received a deputation of fascists and replied again to their arguments, “You’re quite right.” Then he asked his nephew what he thought and the young man said, “You’ve spoken with two groups with diametrically opposite opinions and you told them both that you agreed with them. This is completely unacceptable.” Peron replied, “You’re quite right too.”
Sire employs this lens to explain one Vatican intrigue after another, beginning with the quiet campaign to elect Bergoglio as Pope that began long before 2013.
The “Sankt-Gallen Mafia,” led by Godfried Cardinal Danneels (who coined the group’s name) and featuring among others Cardinals Martini and Kasper, resisted Pope Benedict throughout his reign. The group’s existence was hardly secret, Sire reports — Cardinal Danneels even bragged about it on Belgian TV. This “mafia” opposed Humanae Vitae and championed a much more liberal approach to sex, marriage, and homosexuality.
“The controverted encyclical’s prohibition of contraception, the cardinal [Martini] said, has caused ‘serious damage,’ and he blamed it for the abandonment of the practice of the faith by many Catholics since 1968.”
On this point Sire disagrees, telling The Wanderer that “the attribution of the loss of tens of millions of Catholics to Humanae Vitae is a standard Modernist accusation, and it is preposterous. Did Casti Connubii in 1930 lead to a loss of Catholic practice? There is nothing in the profile of those who left the Church in the sixties and seventies to identify them specifically as people who had difficulties with Catholic teaching on contraception.
“The same can be said of the timing; the phenomenon did not begin in July 1968, and it continued for a long time afterwards. By far the greatest cause [of the exodus] in my opinion, was the destruction of the devotional life of the faithful by the overturning of the liturgical and spiritual heritage which was at the basis of Catholic identity.”
Shortly before his death in 2012, “Martini mapped out the policies which were to be put forward by the liberals in the two Synods on the Family in 2014 and 2015, and which were later incorporated, in a more ambiguous fashion, in Pope Francis’ exhortation Amoris Laetitia: he urged a more personal and less doctrinal approach to sexual morality, applied especially to the case of divorced and remarried couples, as well as homosexuals.”
We know that, in the 1960s, homosexuals were strong supporters of contraception and population control, closely allied with radical feminists. Their influence has not waned, and Sire tells The Wanderer: “The existence of a homosexual lobby in the Vatican has been notorious for some time. It is said to have been one of the specific factors that caused Pope Benedict to resign.”
On his notorious airplane interview of July 28, 2013, Pope Francis acknowledged the “lobby gay” in the Vatican, and it undoubtedly played a role in the well-documented manipulations that plagued the synods, as well as the notorious ambiguity at the core of Francis’ post-synodal apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia.
Sire recounts the role of “Peronismo” in the Vatican’s approach to financial reform (it failed), the Pope’s persecution of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate and the Sovereign Military
Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta (still under way), and the conversion of the Vatican’s Casa Santa Marta, where the Pope now resides, as a “Kremlin” complete with its own version of the Lubyanka, where no one is safe and everyone lives in fear.
(With that in mind, Sire might consider his work as a Spiritual Work of Mercy, bringing a welcome but silent sigh of relief to insiders who might have harbored those fears themselves.)
One of Sire’s most interesting insights involves the Pope’s attempt to become a world political leader intent on fostering a resurgence of a Latin America that would “challenge the imperialist dominance of the United States,” an enterprise which failed in Latin America and was ultimately “shattered” by the election of Donald Trump, whose election caught American bishops by surprise as much as it shocked the Vatican.
This unique dominance of politics in Francis’ papacy might explain what many will not forgive: Sire’s harsh, relentless critique, an approach quite common in secular politics, but uncommon in treatments of past Popes whose reigns were much less politicized.
To further explain his view of this papacy’s erratic incoherence, Sire cites Jesuit Superior General Peter-Hans Kolvenbach. In 1991, “Fr. Kolvenbach accused Bergoglio of a series of defects, ranging from habitual use of vulgar language to deviousness, disobedience concealed under a mask of humility, and lack of psychological balance; with a view to his suitability as a future provincial of his own order.”
After the 2013 conclave, that file mysteriously disappeared from the Jesuit Order’s Rome headquarters, Sire reports (and his account thus relies on a description by a source familiar with it).
After the shock of Pope Benedict’s retirement, “people were looking for a savior, and that is not necessarily the frame of mind in which to make a good choice,” Sire writes. He tells The Wanderer: “The media adulation on which he has been riding for the past five years is already showing signs of changing. He can’t expect to keep the liberals happy any longer unless he resolves to make overt changes in Catholic teaching, which would cause a schism. Francis’ pontificate has been pure Public Relations, and that deception can’t go on forever.”
Sire tells The Wanderer: “It is certainly centuries since a man of such unsuitable character was elected to the papal throne, and the reason was ignorance of the person concerned, allied with the influence of a clique who would have gone for a bad candidate in any case. My prime objective is to try to ensure that the cardinals do not make a similar mistake in the next conclave.”
So we ask: “If the conclave were held today, would Cardinal Bergoglio be elected Pope?”
“No. Clearly not.”
This book is hard-hitting and controversial. Because of the wide reception it has received since its online publication several months ago, fans as well as critics of Pope Francis should be familiar with it. While it is arguably devastating, Sire’s sterling reputation as a historian imparts to it a seal of authority and credibility that cannot be ignored.

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