PopeWatch: The General Who Wants to Win Without Fighting

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For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?

1 Corinthians 14:8

PopeWatch has commented on how Pope Francis seems very reluctant to champion Church teaching under attack by elites throughout the West.  Sandro Magister at his blog Chiesa in a post entitled Bergoglio, the General Who Wants to Win without Fighting, explains why this is the case:

ROME, March 10, 2014 – Víctor Manuel Fernández is the first Argentine to be made a bishop by Jorge Mario Bergoglio, two months after his election as pope.

He was and continues to be the rector of the Universidad Católica Argentina, a role he took on after the then-archbishop of Buenos Aires overcame the hostility of a formidable group of opponents outside and inside the Church.

But for years he has also been Bergoglio’s most trusted collaborator in the writing of his major texts, from the Aparecida document in 2007 to the 2013 “Evangelii Gaudium,” the action plan of the current pontificate.

The book-interview “Il progetto di Francesco. Dove vuole portare la Chiesa” – recently released in Italy – in which Fernández explains and comments on the papal program is therefore a good guide for understanding it more thoroughly.


There is a passage in the book in which Fernández refers to the metamorphosis that Bergoglio went through before and after his election as pope:

“When he was archbishop he was gradually withdrawing and preferred not to appear in public very much. Moreover, there were too many campaigns of persecution orchestrated by some very conservative sectors of the Church, and I believe that this worried him a great deal. Now that he has become pope, with the new gift that the Holy Spirit has bestowed upon him, he has abandoned those fears and has allowed his best features to emerge. This has renewed his enthusiasm and his energy.”

In another passage Fernández explains the reserve of the then-archbishop of Buenos Aires:

“There were sectors that were putting a strong emphasis on doctrinal certainty, on the honor of the Church and its self-preservation, and that felt that they were represented by a few ecclesial authorities. The sectors that had a plan even slightly different from these latter, like Cardinal Bergoglio and many others, were very respectful of these choices, or at the very least met them with silence.”

Fernández does not say any more. But to find out more about that tormented period of Bergoglio’s life there is another book, released a few months ago in Argentina and Italy, written by the vaticanista Elisabetta Piqué, who is the best informed and most reliable biographer of the current pope: “Francesco, vita e rivoluzione”.

On the side opposed to Bergoglio were the prominent Vatican cardinals Angelo Sodano and Leonardo Sandri, the latter being of Argentine nationality. While in Buenos Aires the ranks of the opposition were led by the nuncio Adriano Bernardini, in office from 2003 to 2011, with the many bishops he managed to get appointed, almost always in contrast with the guidelines and expectations of the then-cardinal of Buenos Aires.

 On February 22, 2011, the feast of the Chair of St. Peter, Bernardini delivered a homily that was interpreted by almost everyone as a harangue in defense of Benedict XVI but in reality was a concerted attack on Bergoglio.

The nuncio placed under accusation those priests, religious, and above all those bishops who were keeping a “low profile” and leaving the pope alone in the public battle in defense of the truth.

“We have to acknowledge,” he said, “that there has increased year after year, among theologians and religious, among sisters and bishops, the group of those who are convinced that belonging to the Church does not entail the recognition of and adherence to an objective doctrine.”

Because this was exactly the fault charged against Bergoglio: that of not opposing the secularist offensive, of not defending Church teaching on “nonnegotiable” principles.

And to some extent this was the case. The then-archbishop of Buenos Aires could not bear the “obsessive rigidity” of certain churchmen on questions of sexual morality. “He was convinced,” writes Elisabetta Piqué, ” that the worst thing would be to insist and seek out conflict on these issues.”

There was one episode that exemplifies Bergoglio’s approach:

“In 2010, at the height of the episcopate’s battle of to block the legalization of marriage between persons of the same sex in Argentina, there emerged the idea of holding a prayer vigil [in front of parliament]. Esteban Pittaro, of the ‘Università Australe of Opus Dei, sent an e-mail to the chancery of Buenos Aires, telling them about the event. The following day he saw that he had missed a phone call and realized that it was a number of the archdiocese. Esteban called back and Bergoglio answered in person. ‘It seems like a wonderful thing to me that you should pray. But the fact that you want to spend all night in the plaza . . . It will be cold, go home, pray at home, as a family!” the cardinal told him. ‘He supported the march, but he was right to discourage the vigil, because the following day there were demonstrations in fa for of homosexual marriage. And he wanted to avoid the contrast,’ Pittaro recounts.”


If these are the precedents, it comes as no surprise that Bergoglio, as pope, should dictate this same line of conduct  for the whole Church.

It is the line of conduct that “Evangelii Gaudium” has laid bare to the world. and that the book-interview of Bishop Fernández makes even more explicit, with the showy confidence of one who demonstrates that he thoroughly understands the pope’s thinking.

For example, on the following points.


Pope Francis is not naive. He is asking us to immerse ourselves in the context of today’s culture in a very realistic way. He is inviting us to recognize that the rapidity of communication and the selection of content proposed by the media present a new challenge for us. [. . .] When the Church talks too much about philosophical questions or about the natural law, it is presumably doing so in order to be able to dialogue on moral issues with the nonbelieving world. Nonetheless, in doing this, on the one hand we do not convince anyone with the philosophical arguments of other times, and on the other we lose the opportunity to proclaim the beauty of Jesus Christ, to “make hearts burn.” So those philosophical arguments do not change anyone’s life. Instead, if it can be managed to make hearts burn, or at least to show what there is that is attractive in the Gospel, then persons will be more willing to converse and to reflect also with regard to a response concerning morality. [. . .]

For example, it does not do much good to speak out against sexual marriage, because people tend to see us as if we were resentful, cruel, persons who have little sympathy or even exaggerate. It is another matter when we speak of the beauty of marriage and of the harmony that is created in the difference resulting from the covenant between a man and a woman, and in this positive context it emerges, almost without having to point it out, how inadequate it is to use the same term and to call “marriage” the union of two homosexual persons. [. . .]

There are two factors that are driving the pope to ask us not to speak “always” and “only” about certain moral principles: in order not to wear others out, overloading them and obtaining an effect of rejection, and above all in order not to destroy the harmony of our message.

Go here to read the rest.  The Church is under attack constantly today, and her enemies throughout the West spit on her teachings and pass legislation to hem her in, subjecting believing Catholics to discrimination and legal penalties, in ever increasing attempts to force them to betray the teachings of the Church.  At the head of the Church now we have a Pope who has a strategy of simply ignoring the attacks, while seeking to not talk much about Church teaching that is under attack, in order to emphasize a simple proclamation of Jesus Christ, sans the hard sayings of Christ.  PopeWatch believes that God is using this papacy for His purposes, as He uses all papacies, but what that purpose may be is definitely viewed in a glass, darkly, by PopeWatch at the present time.  As history reveals, God can use popes to teach negative, as well as positive, lessons.  PopeWatch hopes that a positive lesson will be taught by God with this papacy, but fears very much that a negative lesson is in the offing.  We shall see.

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  1. Perhaps, Pope Francis is taking a leaf out of St Peter’s book.

    According to C H Dodd’s analysis of Acts, St Peter’s preaching followed a pattern that always included one or more of just six topics:

    1. The Age of Fulfilment has dawned, the “latter days” foretold by the prophets.
    2. This has taken place through the birth, life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
    3. By virtue of the resurrection, Jesus has been exalted at the right hand of God as Messianic head of the new Israel.
    4. The Holy Spirit in the church is the sign of Christ’s present power and glory.
    5. The Messianic Age will reach its consummation in the return of Christ.
    6. An appeal is made for repentance with the offer of forgiveness, the Holy Spirit, and salvation.

    If people are moved to faith (“Faith comes from hearing” (Rom 10:17)), the rest follows, for scripture also says, “the just shall live by faith” (Rom 1:17)

    When the Church talks too much about philosophical questions or about the natural law, it is presumably doing so in order to be able to dialogue on moral issues with the nonbelieving world.”
    Alas, as Miss Anscombe pointed out in her 1958 paper, Modern Moral Philosophy, “In present-day philosophy an explanation is required how an unjust man is a bad man, or an unjust action a bad one; to give such an explanation belongs to ethics; but it cannot even be begun until we are equipped with a sound philosophy of psychology. For the proof that an unjust man is a bad man would require a positive account of justice as a “virtue.” This part of the subject-matter of ethics, is however, completely closed to us until we have an account of what type of characteristic a virtue is – a problem, not of ethics, but of conceptual analysis – and how it relates to the actions in which it is instanced: a matter which I think Aristotle did not succeed in really making clear.” Fifty years on, we are no nearer solving that particular problem, as anyone familiar with moral philosophy today will recognize.

  2. Always place the mission first.

    Never accept defeat.

    Never quit.

    This rule sets some apart. It is, to many, as alien as the promises of Christ and His Gospel.

    Suppose the Pope doesn’t care to lead. Or, maybe it’s a diversity of tactics.

    The Holy Spirit will guide.

    Last, but not least: Never leave a fallen comrade.

  3. This commentary by Sandro Magister with input from Bp. Victor Manuel Fernandez’ book confirms a sentiment I had about P. Francis: he thinks that any “fighting” for a cause is misguided (“the Church does not need crusaders”) and is actually damaging—this all the more amazing because of all the progress we have made in 35 or so years on the pro-life issue!

    P F appears to want to be “on the sidelines” in a fight (Bp. Fernandez implies this was the Nuncio Bernardini’s sharp criticism of him and Bergoglio’s non-support of P. Benedict) and it was illustrated just as sharply when Bergoglio wouldnt show up at a pro-marriage demonstration in front of the Argentine parliament building (story above). His appearance alone would have created a swell of support for legislators who were hemmed in by the political opposition.

    Now it appears PF is willing to let Card. Kasper take over the reins on the potentially explosive issue of divorce and re-marriage (it really is “marriage and re-marriage”) and even tho Card. Muller has spoken out in defense of the traditional teaching of Catholic marriage, there is no certainty he (Muller) will fight for that and no evidence that PF will support Muller if he does. The best analysis I have seen in my opinion on this matter is a letter by Fr. Brian Harrison, OS of St. Louis, MO, posted in St. Louis Catholic blogspot (linked by Rorate Caeli).

  4. Letter of Fr. Brian Harrison to Dr. Robert Moynihan (Inside the Vatican, Feb. 2014)

    Dear Dr. Moynihan,

    In your latest Letter from Rome, commenting on the new appointments to the College of Cardinals, you report rather nonchalantly that “[Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig] Müller is also known for having said that the Church’s position on admitting to divorced and remarried Catholics to the sacrament of Communion is not something that can or will be changed. But other German Church leaders, including Cardinal Walter Kasper, have recently gone on record saying the teaching may and will be changed.”

    Your brief, matter-of-fact report on this controversy reminds me of the tip of an iceberg. It alludes to, but does not reveal the immensity of, a massive, looming threat that bids fair to pierce, penetrate and rend in twain Peter’s barque – already tossing perilously amid stormy and icy seas. The shocking magnitude of the doctrinal and pastoral crisis lurking beneath this politely-worded dispute between scholarly German prelates can scarcely be overstated. For what is at stake here is fidelity to a teaching of Jesus Christ that directly and profoundly affects the lives of hundreds of millions of Catholics: the indissolubility of marriage.

    The German bishops have devised a pastoral plan to admit divorced and remarried Catholics to Communion, whether or not a Church tribunal has granted a decree of nullity of their first marriage. Cardinal-elect Müller, as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has not only published a strong article in L’Osservatore Romano reaffirming the perennial Catholic doctrine confirmed by John Paul II in Familiaris Consortio; he has also written officially to the German Bishops’ Conference telling them to rectify their heterodox pastoral plan. But the bishops, led by their conference president and by Cardinal Kasper, are openly defying the head of the CDF, and predicting that the existing doctrine and discipline will soon be changed!

    Think of the appalling ramifications of this. If German Catholics don’t need decrees of nullity, neither will any Catholics anywhere. Won’t the world’s Catholic marriage tribunals then become basically irrelevant? (Will they eventually just close down?) And won’t this reversal of bimillennial Catholic doctrine mean that the Protestants and Orthodox, who have allowed divorce and remarriage for century after century, have been more docile to the Holy Spirit on this issue than the true Church of Christ? Indeed, how credible, now, will be her claim to be the true Church? On what other controverted issues, perhaps, has the Catholic Church been wrong, and the separated brethren right?

    And what of Jesus’ teaching that those who remarry after divorce commit adultery? Admitting them to Communion without a commitment to continence will lead logically to one of three faith-breaking conclusions: (a) our Lord was mistaken in calling this relationship adulterous – in which case He can scarcely have been the Son of God; (b) adultery is not intrinsically and gravely sinful – in which case the Church’s universal and ordinary magisterium has always been wrong; or (c) Communion can be given to some who are living in objectively grave sin – in which case not only has the magisterium also erred monumentally by always teaching the opposite, but the way will also be opened to Communion for fornicators, practicing homosexuals, pederasts, and who knows who else? (And, please, spare us the sophistry that Jesus’ teaching was correct “in his own historical and cultural context”, but that since about Martin Luther’s time that has all changed.)

    Let us make no mistake: Satan is right now shaking the Church to her very foundations over this divorce issue. If anything, the confusion is becoming even graver than that over contraception between 1965 and 1968, when Paul VI’s seeming vacillation allowed Catholics round the world to anticipate a reversal of perennial Church teaching. If the present Successor of Peter now keeps silent about divorce and remarriage, thereby tacitly telling the Church and the world that the teaching of Jesus Christ will be up for open debate at a forthcoming Synod of Bishops, one fears a terrible price will soon have to be paid.

    Fr. Brian W. Harrison, O.S.
    St. Louis, Missouri

  5. The part of Fr. Harrison’s letter that particularly struck home like a churchbell gong at midnight:

    “Let us make no mistake: Satan is right now shaking the Church to her very foundations over this divorce issue. If anything, the confusion is becoming even graver than that over contraception between 1965 and 1968, when Paul VI’s seeming vacillation allowed Catholics round the world to anticipate a reversal of perennial Church teaching. If the present Successor of Peter now keeps silent about divorce and remarriage, thereby tacitly telling the Church and the world that the teaching of Jesus Christ will be up for open debate at a forthcoming Synod of Bishops, one fears a terrible price will soon have to be paid.”

  6. I think Fr. Harrison’s letter is dead-on. And the consequences of a change that functionally denies indissolubility will be catastrophic.

  7. Recognising the indissolubility of marriage does not resolve the question of how the fact of a marriage is to be proved.

    There is a world of difference between these two propositions: (1) A and B are married and (2) the court “found and hereby find that the said A has failed to instruct facts and circumstances relevant to infer marriage betwixt her and the said B.” There is no logical contradiction between (1) and (2).

    There are inevitably cases where the truth cannot be established and there, as Paulus says, “si id non apparat, non ius deficit, sed probatio” – If it does not appear, the fault is not with the law, but with the proof [D 26.2.30]

    Whether the rules of procedure and evidence in consistorial cases need to be reviewed, I leave to the wisdom of the Holy See.

  8. I think I understand your position (the need for juridical evaluation to decide marital validity/nullity), MPS, and agree: but the German bishops’ conference and Kasper himself have ben the ones who have floated an idea where marriage tribunals will cease to effectively operate, and decisions will be made by a priest alone apparently without a review process.

    In the Feb. 20th consistory address by Kasper, he mentioned at least the possibility of bishops being able to entrust the entire process to an individual priest (I have not found the official text still yet to be available: dont hold your breath, about that appearing soon. Now, just yesterday (3/11/14), Kasper was in full retreat in an interview synopsized @ the Vatican Radio site (see:


    This is why Fr. Brian Harrison, OS, asks the question, “Will tribunals cease to exist?” Kasper and the sideline-style Paul VI-type present pontiff have created a situation in immense flux and with an expectation of great change. Kasper has been quite petulant that his address was released at all to the general public. Sandro Magister notes this at his blog Settimo Cielo 3/10/14 (Magister Kasper fa il bis. O si fa come dico, o niente sinodo”: “Kasper makes an encore appearance, or: “Do as I say or no synod at all.” My translation). Magister notes that Kasper sounded vexed in a 3/1/13 followup interview, annoyed that his comments were released, and then saying, “:. ‘The synod on the family will produce a change, or you might as well not even call it.’ (again my translation.) I see this as pushing a forced change on a weak pontiff who might not act to re-instate the clear traditional Catholic teaching of marriage. Muller cant be the only voice in this matter.

    Well, Herr Kasper (which I am sure it has been pointed out in colloquial German means “joker”, “clown”), be careful what you push for. Maybe people really are listening.

  9. Not to sound contrary, but I do not see Pope Francis as ‘weak”. I do not see him even like Pope Paul VI who seemed to hesitate at crucial moments in a Hamlet-esque manner. I see Pope Francis as having a certain vision of the direction the Church needs to go in- a vision fundamentally given in the few days leading up to the Conclave one year ago, in which all the Cardinals heard addresses concerning what the fundamental needs of the Church were and where we needed to go from that point on.

    Pope Francis is orthodox. The teaching of Christ on the indissolubility of marriage will be preserved. It is important to remember however that right within Christ’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage in Saint Matthew’s Gospel, there is an ‘exception clause’. That exception clause needs to be carefully studied etc but it reveals within Christ’s own teaching and that of the Apostolic Church that the Doctrinal and Pastoral dimensions cannot be divided. Jesus excoriates the hardness of heart that had watered down the teaching to its diminutive form in the Book of Deuteronomy. In an earlier teaching he made clear in His teaching on the 6th commandment that His disciples would realize just how deep a dimension lust is in peoples’ lives and that it gave no excuses for obfuscating the meaning of marriage or conjugal charity. However, as we see with the woman caught in adultery, while holding to the truth of the teaching on marriage, neither did He condemn (and agree to having her stoned). He desired in mercy to separate sinners from their sin.

    As to the style of Pope Francis, I am convinced of two things. He had Cardinal Mueller make his doctrinal statements on marriage. He wanted the theological foundations to be there as the Church prepares for the two synods on marriage. At the same time he wanted those who are seeking a ‘pastoral solution’ to also have a hearing-that was Cardinal Kaspar. Now the Cardinals at least have both sides of the argument. They go back home reflect, pray, study about this themselves and prepare for the two Synods themselves.

    In the end truth and charity (mercy) will be and remain united as they ought.

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