PopeWatch: The Stick

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Sir Thomas More: You threaten like a dockside bully.

Cromwell: How should I threaten?

Sir Thomas More: Like a minister of state. With justice.

Cromwell: Oh, justice is what you’re threatened with.

Sir Thomas More: Then I am not threatened.

A Man for All Seasons, Robert Bolt





Perhaps the Pope has decided to treat the Four Cardinals as if they were a pack of recalcitrant dogs, and he has decided to have a servant shake a stick at them:

According to a senior Vatican judge, four cardinals, including American Raymond Burke, who recently published a letter in which they asked Pope Francis to clarify his document on the family, Amoris Laetitia, could lose their red hats over what he termed the “very grave scandal” they’ve caused.

“What Church do these cardinals defend? The pope is faithful to the doctrine of Christ,” said Father Pio Vito Pinto.

“What they [the cardinals] have done is a very grave scandal, which could even lead the Holy Father to take away their red hats, as it’s happened already in some other times in the Church,” Vito Pinto said.

The priest, appointed in 2012 by emeritus Pope Benedict XVI as head of the Vatican’s main working court, also known as the Roman Rota, was quick to clarify that his words don’t mean Francis has made such a decision, simply that he could.

Vito Pinto was in Spain in late November to give a talk at the University of San Damaso in Madrid, as part of a broader conference on Pope Francis’s marriage annulment reforms.

He gave his comments regarding the letter, formally called a dubia, from cardinals Walter Brandmüller, Raymond Burke, Carlo Caffarra and Joachim Meisner, to the Spanish news site Religión Confidencial.

The site quotes Pinto as saying that the four cardinals and others within the Church who are questioning Pope Francis’s reforms and his apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia are questioning “two synods of bishops on marriage and family. Not one but two! An ordinary and an extraordinary one. The action of the Holy Spirit is beyond doubt!”

Go here to read the rest.  The Pope can make and unmake Cardinals, that is within his power.  It is not within his power to turn heresy into Orthodoxy, or to still the questions of those who fear that is precisely what he is about.


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  1. It’s true, the action of the Holy Spirit is beyond doubt, however the cleverness of the serpent is underestimated within PF’s circle.

  2. “The site quotes Pinto as saying that the four cardinals and others within the Church who are questioning Pope Francis’s reforms and his apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia are questioning ‘two synods of bishops on marriage and family. Not one but two! An ordinary and an extraordinary one. The action of the Holy Spirit is beyond doubt!'”
    If attributing to Satan what is the work of the Holy Spirit (e.g., casting out demons) is blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, then what is attributing to the work of the Holy Spirit what is clearly NOT the work of the Holy Spirit (i.e., permission of Holy Communion for adulterers)? Matthew 19: 1-12 and 1st Corinthians 11: 27-32 are very clear.
    “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin, for they had said, ‘He has an unclean spirit.'” Mark 3: 28-29
    Methinks Jorge Bergoglio and his cohort ought to tread very carefully. Ananias and Sapphira were struck dead on the spot for lying to God (Acts 5: 1-11) about mere money. What is the punishment for attributing to the Holy Spirit what is NOT the work of the Holy Spirit?

  3. The real problem is that he can’t/won’t answer those questions, because they
    will destroy the game of ambiguity.

    The good news, is that there can be little doubt that raw “theo-politics” is the new mode of shepherding from Rome now. All this transparent non-cunning does is make it harder for those many shy sheep to be so quick to follow such an angry shepherd. Few listen any longer to the worn out cry of, “what he meant to say was…” any longer.

    And they called Ratzinger a “German shepherd”.

  4. . ROFLOL…Father Pinto is revealing his own materialism which is at the heart of the threat. When you leave all for Christ as a priest, you slowly get a new “all” back…if you are on a trajectory toward Bishop or Cardinal. Cardinals get about $70,000 a year for life. Add to that the ego loss if they go from Cardinal to ordinary citizen wherein they could teach school in most countries instead of the 70K a year. Hopefully our four brave Cardinals have stashed away savings for years for just such a firing. But fear of being fired is why our diocesan press was a disgrace during the sex abuse scandal years. They were monthly reporting on the 20th anniversary of Fr.A or Sister B…but not a word on a child being molested….for decades. Ergo there is now too no groundswell of support for the four Cardinals who are once again prepared to give up all for Christ…70K a year and ego status as a ruler within the Church…. but a very old school teacher outside the Church. These are men with a capital M. But where is Benedict in this fray? His concept of obedience is excessive and permits him to hide from the division that the Holy Spirit is bringing about through these men.

  5. Let me share what I think is happening:

    His Holiness, Pope Francis, has a great intellectual affinity for the liberal cardinals and bishops of Europe. This seems to have been forged through personal experiences of the very real practical effects of Church law on everyday people and a visceral distaste for the rigidity and formalism of the political environment, within which he lived for most of his life.

    He is not entirely wrong.

    Law without soul is a terrible master, a tyrant even. Church laws that bar divorce and remarriage, in a society which promotes divorce and remarriage, has the practical effect of alienating and excommunicating (meant in the experiencial, not the legal sense.)

    As such, his pontificate labors under at least two delusions: 1) liberalizing the Church on the ground will cure the defect and 2) opposition is a dragon that must be slain.

    Let me attack them in order:

    His Holiness imagines that liberalizing the Church on the ground will bring throngs of people in from the shadows, folks who want to fully practice the faith but feel excluded by the knowledge that they cannot faithfully receive the Eucharist or receive absolution for sins. It makes sense that he would believe this, for he is a parish priest, who served the poorest of the poor, in a country recovering from despotic rule, that destroyed families. I do not doubt that he has plenty of narrative evidence of folks who are barred from the sacraments unjustly.

    Consider, for example, the woman whose husband is missing, may still live, and forges a durable relationship with a new man. Under Church law, she is barred from the Eucharist because she us in a state of mortal sin. She is effectively barred from Reconciliation because she has no intention of ceasing the adulterous behavior.

    Suppose our hypothetical woman obtains a civil divorce and marries the man. She has children with him. Is she now free? No, not under Church law. She is still in an adulterous relationship because she is, under Church law, still married to her first husband.

    Is there a remedy? Sort of.

    Suppose she obtains an anulment; she is now free… technically. The anulment, if valid, removes the impediment, precisely because it signals that there never was a first marriage. But what if, as here, there WAS a first marriage and the evidence that it wasn’t valid is corrupt, as often happens in the interest of Man’s justice?

    Now, to the community, our hypothetical wife and mother is free to marry but, really, she is still subject to the ban and EVERY incident of receiving the Eucharist and partial Absolution is, at best, invalid, and, at worst, a mortal sin.

    It is easy for me to see why a parish priest, dealing with this reality regularly, would seek a way out as Pope. That brings me to the second point: theological opposition to a remedy seems to be taken by this pope to be an evil.

    The cardinals and bishops who oppose lifting the ban do so because they believe it is not a “church law” at all, that it is the reality articulated by the Church. To, for example, Cardinals Burke and Sarah or Archbishop Chaput, the reality of our hypothetical woman’s condition is that she is in a state of mortal sin that, if not remedied, may perpetually separate her from God. The theology behind the rule says that a valid marriage is perpetual and, so, the church has no power to “remedy” the condition that rises from adultary.

    His Holiness REALLY doesn’t take kindly to opposition.

    Enter the true liberals of the Church:

    It probably surprises some Americans to learn that the Roman Catholic Church has a rather large contingent of powerful liberals. Sure, we hear about our San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Portland, Oregon bishops’ shenanigans but these pale in comparison to the antics of bishops and cardinals in Europe.

    Our Bishops and Cardinals in Europe are scandalous… really, REALLY scandalous.

    To say that these folks wish to “liberalise” the Church fails to capture the virulent anti-orthodox views that they hold. They HATE the Latin Mass, chant, Tradition, and Church law. About the only things these bishops and cardinals DO like of the traditional Church are their titles, wealth, and finery. The LOVE playing “princes of the Church” but dislike just about everything about the Church, as we practicing Catholics know it.

    I think that, in Pope Francis, THEY see a dupe, someone that they can use to shatter Roman Catholic Traditionalism altogether. They imagine him a rube from a backwater country that they barely consider to be part of the Church. Vatican watchers will recall that, during the last Synod, these fine men spoke of the African bishops like they were animals and children, specifically saying that the African bishops should silently listen to the European bishops because they had so much to learn…

    Yeah… Did I mention that the liberals are racists too?

    His Holiness is, in my esteem, NOT a dupe, a rube; he is just too stuck on his Jesuit intellectualism and personal experience to realize that he is being used and that his grand scheme to get what he wants (liberalizing as a practical effect without legal change) won’t work.

    What Pope Francis is trying to do, it seems to me, is to change the rules on the ground without changing the laws that govern the practical. The Traditionalists won’t let that happen because 1) it is a sham and 2) because it opens the door to the wholesale changes that our European liberals want.

    The Traditionalists are right of course: if it is GOD’S law, then any change in Church law is illicit. (This, by the way, is what the SSPX dispute is all about.) Allowing folks to pretend all is well with God… when they are in a state of mortal sin, IS a sham… and a cruel one which potentially condemns them to hell.

    The Traditionalists know their enemy too. They know the European liberals really DO have plans that far exceed the mild reforms Pope Francis envisions. This brings us back to the cited post:

    The Traditionalists sought clarification privately, for His Holiness to be explicit about what he wants bishops and priests to do. He refused. The Traditionalists went public to try to force the Pope to say what he means. He refuses to do so and, now, threatens them with public censure… for what? For asking for clarity?

    What in the blazes is going on here?

    Well… I suggest that, by insisting on clarification, the Traditionalists are doing two things that the Pope cannot accept: 1) they are undoing the ambiguity that he needs to “split the baby.” Remember, the Pope is trying to change people’s experience on the ground WITHOUT changing the rules. By insisting on his being explicit, they are forcing him to pick a side: Either with liberal bishops who are clearly prancing to hell or with Traditionalists that accept the loss of some souls in order to maintain order and consistency.

    2) His Holiness doesn’t like dictatorships and he really doesn’t like being lectured to by a gringo (Cardinal Burke). He is no ally to rigidity and order because he experienced the practical effects of the religion of conservativism his entire life. Indeed, it was precisely that kind of orthodoxy that moved him to serve the poorest of the poor in the first place.

    So, in the end, we have a pope that is caught in the middle of the culture wars. On one side are Church liberals who love ambiguity because they can interpret it any way they want and they ALWAYS want to interpret it in a way that makes Catholicism look like the broader society. On the other side are Church Traditionalists who love clarity and accept that those who cannot or will not comply, are lost.

    His Holiness wants ambiguity WITH rules.

    It will be nigh on a miraculous thing if he figures out how to do that.

  6. The Pope was toppled from the ranks of leadership in the Jesuits in Argentina because he was perceived as too rigid and too orthodox. Until he became Pope he remained persona non grata among his fellow Jesuits. The Church is now living through the lessons that the Pope drew from this experience. The Papacy and psycho-drama are a poor match, and there is a reason it took over four centuries for a Jesuit to be made a Pope.

  7. . David….you conclude, ” We have a Pope that is caught in the middle of the culture wars… on one side are Church liberals…on the other side are Church Traditionalists…His Holiness wants ambiguity with rules.” Or he wants to be greater than the rules…which rules he tolerates because even the flatterer class in the Catholic press and clergy has it’s limits.
    That puts him in a middle but he is not in the middle. He is far liberal having repeatedly cited a statue in Europe wherein Christ carries Judas with a half smile on Christ’s lips as his insight into Judas furtively having been saved by Christ despite Christ’s unrelenting dire words about Judas and Christ’s past tense prophecy of his having perished.
    Francis has stated publically that the 5th commandment condemns the death penalty….yet God gives multiple death penalties in the same Pentateuch as He gave the 5th commandment. It’s total irrationality as is his choosing a statue as a revelation that supercedes the actual word of God on Judas. Francis is not middle though he may differ with the German liberals on specific issues.

  8. I understand the perspective, Bill. I just reject the idea that His Holiness is malicious. Like many well-meaning folks on the Left, he thinks he is smart enough to craft solutions that have eluded humanity through all of time. That is silly and dangerous in a leader. I just don’t accept that it is intentional and knowing. Perhaps I need to hold onto the “well intentioned fool” idea, at some deeply personal level.

  9. @Philip and David.

    David. Thanks for your interpretations of current leadership. I agree and appreciate your opinions.


    Your link is excellent.
    “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of Christ without a cross.”
    Cheap Grace! Indeed.
    (H. Richard Niebuhr)

    Thanks to all of this thread.
    Good explanations.

  10. David Spaulding,
    If Jorge Bergoglio is NOT malicious, then why is he so vindicative with those who disagree with him, exiling and demoting those of orthodoxy who have the temerity to oppose his heterodoxy? He is the POPE. I expect him to ACT like it – dispassionately, intelligently, thoughtfully. Instead, he spouts off ridiculous Marxist Peronist platitudes and liberal progressive idiocy, and behaves like a child when someone says, “That’s not right.”
    I don’t give a care why he is the way he is – oh, what a hard life he had in Argentina! He is supposed to have the maturity to overcome that, and if he can’t, then he should be deposed.

  11. Lucius,

    I really do understand the feelings you express. I frequently find myself going through ranges of emotions with regards to the Pope. It usually starts with bewilderment. I want to believe that he is misquoted or meant something different or more than was expressed. Then I read Father Z’s post on the matter and do some research and become angry. Then I calm down and become saddened. It is usually then that I do what I should have done initially – Pray. After that, I let go what I cannot change. That may not change how I feel but it usually changes how I behave.

    Heck, on one or two occasions, I actually learned something from His Holiness! 🙂

  12. . After the Judas saved idea and the death penalty and life sentence as death penalty ideas and AL’s sink hole, I’m morally certain God does not want me reading Francis at all. Nor would I let a young family member read him if they were in my jurisdiction for a week. I had Jesuits for 8 years. Not one was as bizarre as Francis and some were actually conservative. And they all had a gravitas ( except one drinker ) that is absent in Francis. And the drinker was a chatterbox like Francis.

  13. I think that, in Pope Francis, THEY see a dupe, someone that they can use to shatter Roman Catholic Traditionalism altogether.

    I think that they see a fellow traveler. They elected him, after all. I don’t know where you are getting your information, but he seems to be a very malicious sort of person to me. The way he treats those who disagree with his vision is hardly charitable.

  14. “I think that they see a fellow traveler. They elected him, after all. I don’t know where you are getting your information, but he seems to be a very malicious sort of person to me.”

    I can’t find a link at this time but I remember Cardinal Mahony of L.A. saying after the election of Francis that things were going to change.

    I think c matt you are correct. They knew who they were electing. Was it as a dupe? Maybe. Unfortunately, I think Francis is a willing participant.

  15. Of course he is not entirely wrong. There is just enough glimmer of charity to make us think it we pull back the cover more we will, sigh of relief, discover that he is a good papa after all.

    I don’t think he is innocently caught between liberals and traditionalists. Once Donald McClarey said this “antinomian none too bright Pope” but I think that cuts him some slack.
    He is not just a genial protestant but actually an anti-Catholic contrarian.
    I don’t think he is any more innocent than I think he is humble.
    HIs ideas about private judgement knock the third leg of our three-legged stool right out. (Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the Magisterium). Really he has attacked all three legs.
    We have to stand firm and hold fast. You might want to sympathize with him, but he is leading people astray. He is not just confused. He is not so confused as to think that changing Church laws that bar divorce and remarriage( in a society which promotes divorce and remarriage) will actually bring about more holiness or closeness to the teachings of Jesus. He just wants an earthly solution without sacrifice or repentance. Not Catholic. It’s like the earthly solution of liberation theology applied to sixth commandment.
    Live how you will people.

  16. By his fruits you will know him. Frankly, there is not much of a future in leading the little ones, or anyone, astray. I too occasionally learn something from Pope Francis, but then everyone is an example for good or ill.

  17. La Misericordia Bulla

    Mercy for you, mercy from me.
    Hosanna, mercy! Hosanna, me !

    Dogma says “don’t”, doctrine says “whoa”!
    Tradition says “halt”. Serviam? I say No.

    Sin can be virtue, virtue be sin.
    But mercy is mercy, Voila! Sin again.

    Obstinate, harsh, hateful justice is wrong.
    Mercy the prize, dance to my song.

    Mercy the rock, the rock built on me.
    So it is now and ever will be.

    Mercy for all, unring the bell.
    Satan is saved, though his ideal is hell.

    Mercy for you, mercy from me.
    Hosanna, mercy! Hosanna, me!

    Guy McClung
    © 2016 http://www.catholiclane.com/poem-la-misericordia-bulla/

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