PopeWatch: Has Francis Failed?

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Matthew Schmitz, literary editor of First Things, has a post at the New York Times asking Has Francis Failed?:

When Pope Francis ascended to the chair of St. Peter in March 2013, the world looked on in wonder. Here at last was a pope in line with the times, a man who preferred spontaneous gestures to ritual forms. Francis paid his own hotel bill and eschewed the red shoes. Rather than move into the grand papal apartments, he settled in the cozy guesthouse for visitors to the Vatican. He also set a new nondogmatic tone with statements like “Who am I to judge?

Observers predicted that the new pope’s warmth, humility and charisma would prompt a “Francis effect” — bringing disaffected Catholics back to a church that would no longer seem so forbidding and cold. Three years into his papacy, the predictions continue. Last winter, Austen Ivereigh, the author of an excellent biography of Pope Francis, wrote that the pope’s softer stance on communion for the divorced and remarried “could trigger a return to parishes on a large scale.” In its early days, Francis’ Jesuit order labored to bring Protestants back into the fold of the church. Could Francis do the same for Catholics tired of headlines about child abuse and culture wars?

In a certain sense, things have changed. Perceptions of the papacy, or at least of the pope, have improved. Francis is far more popular than his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI. Sixty-three percent of American Catholics approve of him, while only 43 percent approved of Benedict at the height of his popularity, according to a 2015 New York Times and CBS News poll. Francis has also placed a great emphasis on reaching out to disaffected Catholics.

But are Catholics actually coming back? In the United States, at least, it hasn’t happened. New survey findings from Georgetown’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate suggest that there has been no Francis effect — at least, no positive one. In 2008, 23 percent of American Catholics attended Mass each week. Eight years later, weekly Mass attendance has held steady or marginally declined, at 22 percent.

Of course, the United States is only one part of a global church. But the researchers at Georgetown found that certain types of religious observance are weaker now among young Catholics than they were under Benedict. In 2008, 50 percent of millennials reported receiving ashes on Ash Wednesday, and 46 percent said they made some sacrifice beyond abstaining from meat on Fridays. This year, only 41 percent reported receiving ashes and only 36 percent said they made an extra sacrifice, according to CARA. In spite of Francis’ personal popularity, young people seem to be drifting away from the faith.

Why hasn’t the pope’s popularity reinvigorated the church? Perhaps it is too soon to judge. We probably won’t have a full measure of any Francis effect until the church is run by bishops appointed by Francis and priests who adopt his pastoral approach. This will take years or decades.

Yet something more fundamental may stand in the way of a Francis effect. Francis is a Jesuit, and like many members of Catholic religious orders, he tends to view the institutional church, with its parishes and dioceses and settled ways, as an obstacle to reform. He describes parish priests as “little monsters” who “throw stones” at poor sinners. He has given curial officials a diagnosis of “spiritual Alzheimer’s.” He scolds pro-life activists for their “obsession” with abortion. He has said that Catholics who place an emphasis on attending Mass, frequenting confession, and saying traditional prayers are “Pelagians” — people who believe, heretically, that they can be saved by their own works.

Such denunciations demoralize faithful Catholics without giving the disaffected any reason to return. Why join a church whose priests are little monsters and whose members like to throw stones? When the pope himself stresses internal spiritual states over ritual observance, there is little reason to line up for confession or wake up for Mass.

Go here to read the rest.  Yes, Francis has failed and is failing.  Liberal Catholicism, like Liberal Christianity in general, is a terminal experiment.  Those who embrace leftist politics are not noted, by and large, for their devotion to getting up early and going to Church.  Instead such experiments in blending Christianity with the intellectual prejudices and fads of the contemporary left produce empty churches and dying denominations.  Catholicism will survive Francis, likely a smaller and ruggedly orthodox Catholicism.  Pope Francis is not the vanguard of a New Catholicism but one of the last wimpers of Liberal Catholicism as it departs to the catacombs of History.  May it rest in oblivion.

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  1. “Pope Francis is not the vanguard of a New Catholicism but one of the last wimpers of Liberal Catholicism as it departs to the catacombs of History.”

    I wouldn’t be so sure of this. Pope Francis is certainly not the vanguard of new wave of vibrant Catholicism. But leftism within the Church hierarchy is far from on its last legs. It has a far reaching effect on even orthodox bishops, priests, and laity. On issues where Catholic doctrine doesn’t forbid it, (e.g. capital punishment, immigration etc.), they are not only committed leftists, but hard leftists. For instance, you have Archbishop Gomez, in a recent video supporting a ballot measure ablolishing the death penalty says “the Church teaches the death penalty is no longer acceptable ” when he knows damned well that’s not true. Similarly, you have Archbishop Chaput, saying “Church teaching against the death penalty” to describe the hierarchy policy position. And Catholics who take the legitimately Catholic opposing view are being marginalized by these prelates. If the Catholic media had a fraction of the integrity the secular media is rightly taken to task for not having, these guys would be called out by name (not using the phrase “the bishops” as though they were a nameless, faceless corporate blob) every time they pull this crap.


  2. This pontificate must be judged on the actions and intentions of the Pontiff and his supporters.
    He destroyed the FFI. He demoted Cardinal Burke. He has slapped the pro life people in the face. He gave Cardinals Kasper and Marx, a pair of de facto heretics, exactly what they wanted.
    The disgusting Cardinal Daneels was in his symposium of synchophants.

    What, then, are his goals and has he achieved them?
    He has succeed in making himself a despised heretic in certain circles.
    Rotate warned us what would happen with this Argentine Jesuit.

  3. By what reasonable metric could this pontificate be considered a success?
    Is the Church more unified? Are fallen-away Catholics returning to the
    Sacraments? Are non-Catholics converting to the Faith in greater numbers?
    Is Rome proclaiming the Gospel to the world with fearlessness and clarity?
    From where I’m standing, it looks to me that the only thing this pope seems to
    do well is court the fawning attentions of the secular press and build up a
    cult of personality. Unfortunately, that’s not what the Church needs from
    Francis. I can’t think of a way the Church’s lot has improved because of him.

  4. He has said that Catholics who place an emphasis on attending Mass, frequenting confession, and saying traditional prayers are “Pelagians” — people who believe, heretically, that they can be saved by their own works.

    That’s a rather Protestantish, Sola Fide-ist take on “Promethean Neo-Pelagians” (whatever Francis meant) isn’t it?

  5. Chesterton described orthodoxy as a romance – something that could only be attained by a perfect balance, a story whose ending could be wonderful or tragic. My main problem with Pope Francis is that he beats up on one side. We need an occasional slap, it’s true; but so does everyone. He hasn’t changed the Faith, but his methods risk its balance. Popes John Paul and Benedict didn’t mock the sheep in their fold who wandered toward the fringe. They didn’t spare their philosophical compatriots, either.

  6. He’s actively weakened the Church, and the faith of many Christians is weakened by his poor witness. That’s no failure in Satan’s view. Hip, hip….never mind.

  7. Ernst Schreiber wrote, “That’s a rather Protestantish, Sola Fide-ist take on “Promethean Neo-Pelagians” (whatever Francis meant) isn’t it?”
    I agree. The Pelagian heresy was not about faith and works, but about grace and free-will, as can be seen in the canons of the Council of Orange, thus
    “If anyone says that the grace of God can be conferred as a result of human prayer, but that it is not grace itself which makes us pray to God, he contradicts the prophet Isaiah, or the Apostle who says the same thing, “I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me” (Rom 10:20, quoting Isa. 65:1) (Canon 3)
    “If anyone maintains that God awaits our will to be cleansed from sin, but does not confess that even our will to be cleansed comes to us through the infusion and working of the Holy Spirit, he resists the Holy Spirit himself who says through Solomon, “The will is prepared by the Lord” (Prov. 8:35, LXX), and the salutary word of the Apostle, “For God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).” (Canon 4)
    “If anyone says that God has mercy upon us when, apart from his grace, we believe, will, desire, strive, labor, pray, watch, study, seek, ask, or knock, but does not confess that it is by the infusion and inspiration of the Holy Spirit within us that we have the faith, the will, or the strength to do all these things as we ought; or if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, “What have you that you did not receive?” (1 Cor. 4:7), and, “But by the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Cor. 15:10).” (Canon 6)

  8. What is of major importance right now is what is going on in the seminaries. In those of the priestly societies where the “old” Mass ( or really, the Once and Future Mass) is strictly observed, they do not have sufficient space and are turning away qualified candidates. In diocesan seminaries (Madison WI, Lincoln NE, or Charlotte NC for example) where the old Mass is strongly encouraged numbers there are very encouraging and growing. In mainstream NO seminaries, they’re doing well if they can project keeping the lights on over the next few years. That may be a bit of an exaggeration, but is there a single strictly NO seminary in the US that’s thriving, to the extent that the diocese its a part of will have ordinations that will keep up with retirements and deaths?

  9. The behavior of Francis, of clergymen generally, of the judiciary and much of the bar, and of school administrators and the like leaves me with the definite impression that our bourgeois and our elites are shot through with people who would get great amusement out of taking a large rock and hurling it through a plate-glass window. We live in a culture in which the vanguard are … vandals.

  10. but is there a single strictly NO seminary in the US that’s thriving, to the extent that the diocese its a part of will have ordinations that will keep up with retirements and deaths?

    I think Arlington was doing OK ca 1998. They had some scandals ca. 2003 but I think they’d recovered prior to Francis. Lincoln was at one time healthy, to the point where embittered liberal Catholics took to claiming (without evidence) that their seminarians were not derived from their constituency. Bp. Bruskewitz was certainly sympathetic to FSSP.

  11. About plagiarism and protestantism and francis: the pope is one who has words mean what he means them to mean. He is more protestant than Catholic in my dictionary.
    Our good works are a grace acted upon, as is our obedience of faith, as is our worship according to rubric.

  12. If you read the homily linked to by “Pelagians,” you’ll see that it’s your more or less standard there’s more to being a Christian than marching in front of planned parenthood/working the local soup-kitchen/advocating for the social justice cause du jour on the one hand or showing up at church on a regualar basis and saying your prayers by rote on the other hand boilerplate.
    My characterization, of course.

  13. Hooray for the New York Times for publishing Matthew Schmitz post. Hopefully, it will give more credence to what Conservative Catholic bloggers have been saying for some time now about Pope Francis and the failed Vatican II revolution.

    Pope Francis is fulfilling a critical role of demonstrating the very worst aspects of Vatican II and Modernism. He is the very personification of everything that has gone wrong with the Church in the last 50 years. Let us thank the Lord that he has allowed such an obviously evil presence to emerge in our time to demonstrate the failure of the Man centered religion of Vatican II. Let us pray that more Catholic will reject everything pope Francis stands for demand a return to true Catholicism.

  14. Anzlyne wrote, “Our good works are a grace acted upon, as is our obedience of faith, as is our worship according to rubric.”
    Indeed and that is why the Anti-Pelagian Council of Toucy, after quoting Psalm 134:6, “Whatsoever the Lord pleased He hath done, in heaven, in earth” adds “For nothing is done in heaven or on earth, except what God either graciously does Himself or permits to be done, in His justice.” That is to say, no good, here and now, in this man rather than in another, comes about unless God Himself graciously wills and accomplishes it, and no evil, here and now, in this man rather than another, comes about unless God Himself justly permits it to be done.

  15. Art Deco, What above you wrote plus, I think, it’s huge amounts of fear and loathing of the ruled by the rulers/elites (intellectuals, politicians, technocrats). I think that is largely the result of the monumental messes the elites have generated with their less-than-ingenious (understatement) central planning.
    Anyhow, keep on keeping on over at “Marginal Revolution.” Those guys, generally, are dumb.

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