PopeWatch: A Liquid Message

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On Sandro Magister’s website, Chiesa, he has a post by Professor Pietro De Marco who analyzes the messages being communicated by the Pope:

Pope Francis shows himself to be the typical religious of the Society of Jesus in its recent phase, converted by the Council in the years of formation, especially by what I call the “external Council,” the Vatican II of militant expectations and interpretations, created by some episcopates, by their theologians, and by the most influential Catholic media outlets. One of those churchmen who, in their conciliatory and pliable tone, in their undisputed values, are also the most rigid “conciliars,” convinced after half a century that the Council is yet to be realized and that things should be done as if we were still in the 1970’s, in a hand-to-hand with the “pacellian” church, neoscholastic theology, under the influence of the secular or Marxist paradigm of modernity.

On the contrary: that which the “conciliar spirit” wanted and was able to activate has been said or tried over the decades and today it is a question in the first place of making a critical assessment of the results, sometimes disastrous. Even the tenacious proclamation in Pope Francis of the divine mercy corresponds to a pastoral attitude now widespread among the clergy, to the point of that laxity which the pope moreover censures. Not only that. The theme of sin has almost disappeared from catechesis, thereby liquidating the very need of mercy. Rather than promoting generally merciful behaviors, this is a matter today of reconstructing a moral theology less made up of words and again capable of guiding clergy and faithful in concrete cases. Also in moral theology the road to the true implementation of the Council has been reopened by the magisterial work of Karol Wojtyla and Joseph Ratzinger.

Some maintain that Francis could be, as a postmodern pope, the man of the future of the Church, beyond traditionalism and modernism. But the postmodern that most thrives in him – as liquidation of forms, spontaneity of public appearance, attention to the global village – is superficial. With its pliability and aestheticism, the postmodern is hardly plausible in a bishop of Latin America, where until recently the intelligentsia was dominated by the Marxist Modern. Bergoglio’s solid core is and remains “conciliar.” On the road undertaken by this pope, if confirmed, I see first of all the crystallization of the dominant pastoral conciliarism in the clergy and in the active laity.

Of course, if Bergoglio is not postmodern, his worldwide reception is. The pope pleases right and left, practicing and nonbelievers, without discernment. His prevalent message is “liquid.” On this success, however, nothing can be built, there can only be remixed something already existing, and that not of the best.

There are worrying signals of this “liquid” appearance for anyone who may not be prone to the relativistic chatter of this late modernity:

a) the concession to set popular phrases like “everyone is free to do…” “who says that things must be this way…” “who am I to…” allowed to slip out in the conviction that they are dialogical and up-to-date. Presenting himself as a simple bishop to justify hardly formal behaviors, do not cover up and cannot cover up the different weight and different responsibility that instead belong to his words, any word, since the bishop of Rome and the pope are one and the same;

b) the lack of scrutiny on the part of persons of trust, but wise and cultured, and Italian, of the texts destined to be circulated, perhaps in the papal conviction that there is no need for this;

c) a certain authoritarian inclination (“I will do everything to…”) in singular contrast with the frequent pluralistic propositions, but typical of the democratic “revolutionaries,” with the risk of imprudent collisions with tradition and the “sensus fidelium”;

d) moreover, there remains incongruous in Pope Francis this constant taking of individual public communication initiatives and this wanting to be without filters (the symptomatic image of the papal apartment as a bottleneck), which reveal the unwillingness to feel himself a man of governance (something more difficult than being a reformer) in an eminent and “sui generis” institution like the Catholic Church.

His is, at times, the conduct of a modern and informal manager, one of those who concede a great deal to the press. But this clinging to persons and things on the outside – collaborators, friends, press, public opinion, even the apartment in Santa Marta is “outside” – as if the man Bergoglio were afraid he would not know what to do once he were left alone, as pope, in the apartment of the popes, is not positive. And the thing could not last. Even the media will get tired of supporting a pope who needs them too much.

Go here to read the rest.  Professor De Marco has been looking at popes for a very long time and I think he is correct that Pope Francis is something we have never seen before on the papal chair:  a Jesuit as Pope, and the first Pope to be ordained post Vatican II midst the chaos that immediately followed the council.  These two categories I think are far more important for understanding this Pope than his ethnicity or his self proclaimed humility.  Fasten your seat belts friends, I fear it may be a bumpy ride during this pontificate if I am correct.  We shall see.

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  1. Pope Francis’ always wanting to be in the limelight with the media, never wanting what he says to be filtered by the theologians in the Church, always being at that special place and time for all those photos showing his great humility, never wanting to consult with Tradition and the vast corpus of Church documents before he shoots his mouth off – are those examples of real humility.

    And indeed, if he doesn’t want to consult with his fellow clerics before he shoots his mouth off, is he being conciliar?

    Benedict thought long and hard before he said something. And so did JP II. They wrote well-reasoned documents, and what they said was generally precise theologically. There was no wiggle room.

    It was a sad day when Benedict stepped down.

  2. De Marco notes, “The theme of sin has almost disappeared from catechesis, thereby liquidating the very need of mercy.”

    The call to proclaim “Jesus Saves!” requires us to be ready with answers to the questions “From What?” and “For What?”

    From hell? For heaven? Or would that be coming on too strong?

  3. Professor DeMarco was also critical (hyper-critical?) of Pope Benedict. I remember several commentaries written by Sandro over the last few years. I have not read any of his works (not sure if they are translated into English) however my sense is Dr DeMarco has some very strong reservations of the Council and not merely interpretations of it. I would be glad to discover that I have come to the wrong conclusion on his position.

    Pr ofessor DeMarco’s actual criticisms of Pope Francis are as vague as the positions he claims that this post modern pope has. He criticizes Pope Francis for being a solid Conciliarist (man of the Council). Why would/should he or we expect or want otherwise? While the Council was not a rupture in the Tradition of the Church, it marks a turning point within the history of the Church (marking the transition from the modern to post-modern age) just as Trent marked the transition of the Church from the Medieval to Modern eras.

    I am convinced that basically all we are witnessing with Pope Francis ( with the exception of his interviews perhaps) is precisely what the Cardinals in that conclave had clearly discussed, prayed, reflected, discerned and then elected.

  4. Make a lot of noise. Dissenters within the Church have gone from victory to victory over the past half century as too often orthodox Catholics have done nothing but pray. Prayer is essential, but rarely is it sufficient. We are God’s tools in this world and it is up to us to take action.

  5. Yes, Donald, you are right.

    If noise is also to publish De Marco article in diverse languages, I translated part of the article to my blog written to Portuguese readers (thyselfolord.blogspot.com).

    Marana tha!

  6. I just try to follow the best bloggers: you, Edward Peters, Edward Feser and Pat Archbold.

    I am missing some consideration on Pope Francis from people like Peter Kreeft or Dale Alhquist (Chesterton Society). And I am disappointed with people like Jimmy Akin.

  7. The Church is hardly in crisis in these last seven months of Popejk Francis’ ministry. Have we forgotten the uproar within the Church over Pope Benedict’s interview when he made a comment concerning the possibility of using condoms by men already infected with HIV? (This in fact was a genuine position put forward by a moral theologian of Opus Dei, by no means a liberal). Have we forgotten the uproar and expressions of both anger and hurt from the worldwide Jewish community when Pope Benedict speaking at the Holocaust Memorial in Israel asked ” Where was God?” (a very legitimate and profound theological question). Have we forgotten the severe uproar in the Islamic world when Pope Benedict, giving a phenomenol lecture at Regensburg, quoted a Byzantine Emperor concerning the turn of the Islamic world from logos and toward the irrationality of violence. The uproar stunned the pope who thought it was a university address and not listened to by the whole world. Finally, have we forgotten the meltdown within the Vatican not only concerning Vatican-leaks but the horrendous in-fighting within the Curia and preventing the Holy Father from fulfilling his projects.

    I honestly do not understand the handwringing, the catastrophic thinking and the chicken little expressions of fear we hear now. It simply is too early to evaluate Pope Francis for weal or woe

  8. I want to add to this my concern about Pope Francis’ surprising lack of learning, especially when compared with the last two popes.

    A little comparative theological background might help:

    Cardinal Ratzinger’s doctoral dissertation was on Augustine’s ecclesiology, directed by Munich professor and scholar Gottlieb Soehngen; BXVI’s postdoctoral dissertation was on S. Bonaventure’s theology of history. Cardinal Wojytla’s 1st dissertation (after phenomenological studies in Edmund Husserl) at the Angelicum in Rome about 1948 was on divine-human relationship and personal encounter in the mystical doctrine of S. John of the Cross. JP2′s 2nd dissertation was @ Krakow on the thought of Max Scheler, also a phenomenologist, and a successor to Husserl. JP2 also was a distinguished theology teacher at the Jagiellonian University at Krakow, so lecturing and refining his writing and engaging in controversy literately was a habit for years with him, just as with Ratzinger.

    And now we get to the present pope? Bergoglio didnt finish his dissertation at Frankfurt’s Sahnkt Georgen. At all. (Tauber Zeitung, April 12, 2013). He previously had some psychological education (eg. the word “obsession” about abortion, contraception, homosexuality) but did not obtain either a Masters or a Ph.D. in psych either. (He has Masters degrees in theology, but from Buenos Aires’ Jesuit theologate, not known as a major school in its field). Rather unusual for a Jesuit, no Ph.D. My point is: Bergoglio is not well-trained in systematic theology. He hasnt been a lecturer, a theology teacher. It shows in his statements. I will be more forward: he is the least educated pope, theologically speaking going back far beyond Leo XIII. (It is true that Pius X did not have a doctorate, but he was awarded honors with distinction at his seminary, and he was known to be a top teacher later in a seminary setting.) And this pope? I find his statements quite incomprehensible, and I am coming to the conclusion that he doesnt comprehend what he is talking about, sorry.

  9. There is no question that in John Paul II and Benedict we had brilliant popes. In many ways, we have been spoiled as well as blessed in having them. As you pointed out, Pope Francis’ academic background is not the same. Nonetheless, a doctorate in theology is not required for episcopal ordination, the elevation to the Cardinalate, nor a prerequisite for election to the papacy.

    To call into question, Pope Francis’ academic background is a veiled criticism of the pope who called for his ordination to the episcopacy; to call into question the pope who called him to be archbishop of Buenos Airies, and the pope who elevated him to the Cardinalate, never mind all the Cardinals who elected him.

    However, he knows exactly what he is doing. His whole program up until this moment at least has been to bring about the ‘agenda’ which all the Cardinals had discerned in conclave.

    I am sorry Steve, if you cannot understand him/this.

  10. Dear Botolph, it seems to me that you are discussing a different subject, and you do not even read Dr. Pietro de Marco’s article (or understand Steve’s argument).

    But, you are right in one important point: popes must be more rigid in choosing their cardinals.

    I did not say nothing about the Conclave, because I have faith in the Holy Spirit, despite many bad popes in history.

    Let’s pray for Pope Francis and do a lot of noises.

  11. I understand that people like Botolph will dismiss these serious comparisons I have made so that he doesnt have to confront himself with their implications, For those who will try to appreciate what I am saying, it is this, and disregard it. Botolphites, at your peril: Pope Francis has not had years of profound study and training like JP2 nor BXVI, years of refining and studying Catholic theology at a profound level. He had a weak training in the late 60’s at a middling theology school in Buenos Aires. He failed to complete his dissertation and PhD at Frankfurt—that speaks volumes. The last pope who had a such a lacuna in systematics and dogmatic theology was Paul VI (he studied systems at the MIlan seminary and obtained a PhD at the Gregorian in Canon Law, but mainly he was in the Vatican diplomatic corp) and he was at a marked disadvantage in defending Humanae Vitae to its chorus of “New Theologians” like Hans Kung and Charles Curran. Yes, the last pope without a doctorate was Pius X, Giuseppe Sarto: but Sarto was an outstanding student at his seminary, and was from limited financial means, so he couldnt obtain a PhD for that reason alone. He was nonetheless appointed as a teacher in dogmatics and systematic theology, in which he was outstanding, at the Treviso seminary—so again, it is important to have a pope who deeply comprehends Catholic theology. It is important that a pope be able to literately and effectively teach the faith and to comprehend the meanings of his words–just for example, as Pietro de Marco observes, Francis confuses words [“to judge” (“Who am I to judge?” speaking about (are we to presume active) homosexuals) with “to condemn.”] Francis says “proselytism is solemn foolishness, it makes no sense,” rather dismissing great Jesuits before him like St Francis Xavier and Bl. Peter Faber (Faber he says he models himself upon). Is the Great Commission over (Matt. 28:16-20, Go teach all nations..) ? Francis says “Each of us has his vision of the good” … “we must incite him to proceed toward what he thinks to be the good.” Well, we know that Kinsey, Fidel Castro, and Lenin certainly had visions of ‘the good’—-are there no objective elements and standards that the Church teaches is a single objective good? Of course there are. Bergolio/Francis confuses all these. The fact is, that the numerous ambiguous messages and contradictory statements seem to be increasing, and I can predict that soon, in a year or two years, there will be a serious crisis of faith he will have precipitated in the Church (He already did so to a great degree when he called morally committed Catholics “obsessed” about “homosexuality, abortion, and contraception.”) So, quo vadis, Francis?

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