PopeWatch: The Plot to Change the Church


Ross Douthat in his column in the New York Times writes about what he perceives as a plot to change Catholicism by the Pope:

But if his purpose is clear, his path is decidedly murky. Procedurally, the pope’s powers are near-absolute: If Francis decided tomorrow to endorse communion for the remarried, there is no Catholic Supreme Court that could strike his ruling down.

At the same time, though, the pope is supposed to have no power to change Catholic doctrine. This rule has no official enforcement mechanism (the Holy Spirit is supposed to be the crucial check and balance), but custom, modesty, fear of God and fear of schism all restrain popes who might find a doctrinal rewrite tempting.

And a change of doctrine is what conservative Catholics, quite reasonably, believe that the communion proposal favored by Francis essentially implies.

There’s probably a fascinating secular political science tome to be written on how the combination of absolute and absolutely-limited power shapes the papal office. In such a book, Francis’s recent maneuvers would deserve a chapter, because he’s clearly looking for a mechanism that would let him exercise his powers without undercutting his authority.

The key to this search has been the synods, which have no official doctrinal role but which can project an image of ecclesiastical consensus. So a strong synodal statement endorsing communion for the remarried as a merely “pastoral” change, not a doctrinal alteration, would make Francis’s task far easier.

Unfortunately such a statement has proven difficult to extract — because the ranks of Catholic bishops include so many Benedict XVI and John Paul II-appointed conservatives, and also because the “pastoral” argument is basically just rubbish. The church’s teaching that marriage is indissoluble has already been pushed close to the breaking point by this pope’s new expedited annulment process; going all the way to communion without annulment would just break it.

And yet his plan is not necessarily succeeding. There reportedly still isn’t anything like a majority for the proposal within the synod, which is probably why the organizers hedged their bets for a while about whether there would even be a final document. And the conservatives — African, Polish, American, Australian — have been less surprised than last fall, and quicker to draw public lines and try to box the pontiff in with private appeals.

Go here to read the rest.  Douthat thinks that Pope Francis will ultimately fail in his plot to change the Faith. The comments by the uber-left Times readers are interesting and almost all pro-Pope Francis, sometimes combining both Catholic bashing and pro-Pope Francis sentiment.  PopeWatch would submit that when the readership of the New York Times is so pro a Catholic Pope, something is very, very wrong.

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  1. We must certainly hope he will fail and we all have some pondering to do if he does not. The thing is, it’s much more time consuming to construct a building than to demolish one, and a demolition job is what he’s engaged in. We’ve had in the last 50-odd years one hapless pontificate and this disastrous one. There’s no telling how many generations it will take to make the necessary repairs.

  2. I made this comment on Ross Douthat’s article Sunday.

    Michael Dowd New York Times
    Venice, Florida

    What we are seeing at the Synod with Pope Francis and the progressive Bishops and Cardinals is the advocacy of man over God that began with the heresy of Modernism in the late 19th century, went dormant for a while and re-emerged in Vatican II with the conniving of leftist theologians. Now in full flower since the advent of Pope Francis the “spirit of Vatican II” is attempting to eliminate the very idea of sexual sin. This can only be the work of the devil.

    And while the devil is hard at work at the Vatican most Catholics effectively live very Protestant lives free of historic orthodox Catholic sexual moral beliefs as they practice contraception, abort babies, divorce, cohabit and carry on just like everyone else. Now since the practice of Catholic sexual morality is mostly observed in the breach the progressive Synod participants are just trying to bring the official doctrine in line with actual practice. Such is the result of the failure to proclaim and support Church teaching for the last 50 years.

    In this regard let us hope the Synod is a dismal failure. And more importantly let us hope Pope Francis and the participants have an awakening of the damage caused to the Church and the world by the tragic outcomes of Vatican II.

  3. You can’t have communion for divorced and remarried people because they are living in sin.

    But my question is, how many of these are practising Catholics? And how does the number compare to those people who are receiving Communion weekly, whilst consuming artificial contraception?
    It’s easier to stop taking the Pill, in order to abide by Gods law, than it is to walk away from a second partner in order to be in union with Gods law.

    This is a very difficult and complicated issue in reality.

  4. Ezabelle, the divorced and civilly remarried have 3 choices:
    . – – –
    1) If they truly believe that their first marriage was NOT VALID at the time of the marriage/wedding they should contact their Diocese Marriage Tribunal office for more information and forms.
    (Everyone must be truthful during the process; Jesus will hold everyone accountable for his own actions at the time of his death.)
    .- – –
    2) They can receive the Sacraments if they repent, and live in complete continence (as brother and sister).
    . – – –
    3) They can attend Mass, and raise their children as Catholics, but may not receive the Sacraments.
    . – – –
    For more information see: “Catechism of the Catholic Church, second edition” (aka CCC, dark green cover in the USA).
    CCC # 1650, 1651.

  5. Yes- people have the same choice we have always had– good or evil. And we have very clear teaching available to us.
    The plan to change the Church would be to try to appeal to people who may have been alienated by the Church’s long standing teaching. Ok. What has alienated people is sin (Fr. Gerald Murray) …yes the Church welcomes sinners. Not to harbor their sin, but to turn from it.
    I am beginning to feel like Jonah suddenly thrust into the Deep and strangled and constricted by seaweed! God save us.


  6. Thank you Anne. I am in complete agreeance with you on what a divorced/remarried Catholuc should do.

    But in reality it is far more complicated and it should be acknowledged as such.

    Say for example if they became Catholic after their divorce/remarry choice, or if they came back to the Church after their divorce/remarry choice. It means that they will live a very unnatural version of “marriage” raising children, and it also means that their children will live in a family environment where their parent/s do not provide them with an example of what true marriage is. Their children, raised as Catholics, will always feel not “normal”.

    It is far more difficult for a person who truly wants to live Gods laws- for the parents, and also for the children involved. It should be acknowledged as such.

  7. Ezabelle, some of your questions may be answered in the CCC having to do with mixed marriages, marriages of disparity of cult, etc.
    However, these people should consult their Diocese marriage tribunal since EACH case will have varying but important details that can make a difference one way or the other.
    In the case of “they came back to the Church after their divorce/remarry choice” – the 3 points I mentioned in the earlier post applies.
    This happens frequently.
    The Church does not require the ‘divorced and remarried’ to get divorced again – which would really be unstable for all children involved (including possible children of the second marriage).
    The requirement to receive the sacraments is – that they live in complete continence (as brother and sister),
    People who are already divorced are not going to go back to their original spouses (who also may already be remarried).
    And sometimes the Church recognizes that divorce (but not divorce with remarriage) may be necessary (abuse, etc) CCC #2383.
    Adultery takes place when there is a sexual relationship with the valid spouse of another.

  8. I found the following referenced and found the printed paragraphs interesting in light of the ‘shadow synod’ with its translations, rules changing, chosen and ignored voices, long time American cardinal calling out as ‘trouble’ the questioners, new bishop just going ahead on the basis of inviolacy of conscience whether informed or not, manipulations and verbiage minus doctrine since 2014 mtg., and no clear moral elucidation on the horrors of infanticide, murder of Christians, or abounding heresies around institutions catholic.

  9. Again, not disputing the correct morality Anne.

    But the Church does talk about this or offer enough support to Catholics in this state of life. There is more weight hearing the difficulties encountered by people in this state of life than continual hounding of the CCC. Especially when no two people are at the same stage in their Faith.

    Simply saying “this is how it is suck it up” is not helpful in encouraging them to live their state of life morally.

    I hope the Synod listens to those who ARE in this state of life to give their witness and the difficulties they face, so practical and real solutions are offered. Otherwise it will remain a wedge for those who want to receive the Sacraments. It will encourage lying, rebellion or rejection of the Faith. They are part of Christs body also.

    And by the way, remarrieds remain better than those lying hypocrites who receive Communion and are popping the Pill in DROVES in our Church. It is these that truly anger me.

  10. Ezabelle, unless you are a divorced and civilly remarried Catholic –
    I have more experience in this matter than you do.
    Because I am one. So don’t lecture me.
    My civil husband and I have returned to the Church,
    and we live in complete continence to receive the Sacraments.
    We are putting God first,
    and therefore truly do love each other more than you could ever imagine – since by putting God first,
    we are helping each other get to Heaven.
    When you truly love anyone helping them get to Heaven comes first – and certainly before sex.
    Contraception is a different topic entirely.
    Stop mixing different types of sins in your head.
    One Mortal Sin is not better than another Mortal Sin.
    Both will send an unrepentant Soul to hell.

  11. Anne and how was anyone supposed to know that?! You didn’t mention you were until your last comment- speak up!

    You are exactly the experience and witness needed to bear witness in the Church. Unless you become vocal with your own experience then the contrary voices remain stronger.

    You can attack me but it won’t change anything.

    Contraception is a more widespread issue than remarrieds, and has done much more harm to marriage and family than is being mentioned in the Church. Not to mention the harm to health. It’s not in my head.

  12. Ezabelle, trust me, I would give my eye teeth to speak before the Synod, but that is not the case.
    The Church should not change its doctrine – even on a “pastoral, merciful, or charitable” basis.
    Doctrine and pastoral practice must be the same or it is schizophrenic.
    And if it were not for reading the Bible and the CCC we probably would not have returned to the Faith (reverts), so I have a great fondness for these two gifts.
    In fact we read the CCC prior to coming back to the Church – to see if we could ‘live with’ the Church’s teaching.
    If the Church appears wishy washy in its teaching /principles it will not attract anyone who is searching for God.
    Regarding Contraception, it is best to discuss that in a separate email. As we know it is a mortal sin, and most Bishops and most Priests never mention this.
    It is covered in the CCC.

  13. The high divorce rate is a direct result of the Sexual Revolution. It has been disasterous for singles, couples and families. For the future the Church must do a better job of preparing engaged couples for matrimony. Sadly for many it’s all about the production of the wedding and not about the substance of the sacrament.

  14. “I am beginning to feel like Jonah suddenly thrust into the Deep and strangled and constricted by seaweed! God save us.”

    Not to be a naïve optimist, but I think we are living somewhat like the apostles did during those 3 dark days when the words of fraud, betrayal, and above all, fear–the enemy of true faith.
    Remember the joy after the resurrection when Christ returned. Let’s not let these Pharisees pierce our faith. Double down, reconnect with Christ, suffer the cross that we are all now carrying. Did we think that He came to bring peace?

  15. I know of a married couple (Catholic’s divorced) who both had bad marriages. One cheated on husband and had another man’s child the other was victim of abuse.
    This couple found each other got married by a JP because they both couldn’t afford a annulment but didn’t want to live with each other without being married. This couple are good hearted and loving folks and live a good honest life. Do you really think that our God who is a good and loving god would really send them to hell for not getting an annulment? It breaks my heart to think that he would. if the church really cared about saving souls they should stop thinking $$$$$$$ and give annulments at no cost. so many more people would then return to their catholic churches.

  16. “Do you really think that our God who is a good and loving god would really send them to hell for not getting an annulment?”

    Do you think that Jesus was just running His mouth when He said that such people were adulterers? The idea that they could not afford an annulment is complete crap. If they could afford to divorce their first spouses they could easily afford to go through the annulment process to see if their first marriages could be annulled.

  17. doris bates, in the USA annulments have always been based upon ability to pay.
    Civil divorces are more expensive than annulments.
    You must be complaining about the cost of civil divorce through the government court system.
    However, effective Dec 8, 2015, the Pope has declared that there will be no charges at all for annulments – not even for those who can afford to pay to cover the costs.
    He has made changes to the Code of Canon Law.
    Now your friends have no excuses at all for adultery – a sexual relationship with the valid spouse of another.

  18. Doris, I would have thought annulments are granted too easily.

    An Annulment is when the Church declares a marriage invalid. Very different from a divorce. And for that to happen, there must be evidence that both parties didn’t enter into the marriage freely, willingly and with the intention of having children.

    I don’t know the exact circumstances of your friends, but I believe, adultery and abuse are not necessarily grounds for annulment ie. Evidence that the marriage was not valid. They might be grounds for separation where safety of a spouse is very important in the case of abuse.

    Never-the- less, if your friends were married in a civil ceremony, without obtaining a proper annulment from the Church, then in the eyes of the Church, and therefore God, their union is not binding and true.

    On the flip side, I know a couple who married after the husband was granted an annulment from his wife after 10 years of marriage and one child. The primary reason was because the first wife who was not a Catholic to begin with, converted to a Evangelical Christian Faith and this caused problems in their marriage. He was dating the second wife (a practising Catholic) secretly during the annulment process. Go figure. Baffles me.

  19. doris bates, Jesus was not kidding around, and was very very clear – – – –

    For the exact words of GOD / JESUS regarding divorce with civil remarriage please read:

    “Thou shall not commit Adultery” – GOD’s Commandment – Ex 20:14; Deut 5:18.

    “Thou shall not covet thy Neighbor’s wife” – GOD’s Commandment – Ex 20:17; Deut 5.20.

    JESUS about divorce and remarriage – Mk 10:6-12; Mt 5:32.

    JESUS about adultery, mercy, and required repentance – “Go and Sin NO more” Jn 8:11.

    DOCTRINE of the FAITH – CCC #1650 & 1651.

  20. Ezabelle & doris, abuse is not grounds for an annulment. But divorce due to abuse is permissible. CCC # 1649
    Divorce does not allow for RE-MARRIAGE.
    For an annulment to take place – means that the union at the time of the MARRIAGE/Wedding was NOT VALID in the first place.
    You never get all the accurate details when listening to stories. Repeating hearsay from others merely repeats inaccurate information.

  21. What’s rather . . . amusing . . . about this mess is that the liberals often cite Jesus’s silence on an issue to justify their heterodoxy. For example, Jesus never said abortion was wrong, so why should we condemn it? Yet here is an issue – divorce and remarriage – where Jesus’s words are crystal clear and recorded for posterity, and yet they insist on trying to defy our Lord nonetheless.

    Wow, it’s almost like the “Jesus never said that” argument is a complete red herring.

  22. “abuse is not grounds for an annulment”- yes. I know Anne, because that’s what I said.

    An annulment is granted when the marriage is found, by the Church, to be NOT valid ie. Not binding in the eyes of God.

    Gods laws are indiscriminate.

    It is futile and ineffective when a priest has not explained this to the couple in question, and sat down to engage and help them.

  23. The thought for me in thinking about this issue is: “What God has joined together.” What does that mean? How does one know “God has joined them together?” How does the Church know God has joined these two people together? What responsibility does the Church have in being sure God has joined these two people together? And isn’t the large number of Catholic marriages ending in divorce a reflection on the shepherds and their effectiveness? I’ve never come across a study/discussion on this aspect of this issue.

    It’s like a hospital having a large number of patients dying and blaming it on the patients and never examining the patients’ doctors.

  24. “It’s like a hospital having a large number of patients dying and blaming it on the patients and never examining the patients’ doctors.”


  25. “And isn’t the large number of Catholic marriages ending in divorce a reflection on the shepherds and their effectiveness?”

    Yes, but the primary responsibility for a bad marriage rests upon the parties. As a judge friend of mine would often say when husbands and wives were running each other down in a divorce case: “You picked him!” “You picked her!” In some cases one party is mostly at fault, but in most bad marriages there is a fair amount of blame on both sides.

  26. Stilbelieve, everyone must take full responsibility for our own actions.
    We will each be judged by Jesus at our own death – for our own actions.
    The Church does not tell us whom to marry.
    In the USA the Church does require these days approx. 6 months worth of preparation classes.
    To answer your question when people are married in the Church, it is a SACRAMENT.
    God joins them together, they marry each other, and the Priest acts as persona Christi in all Sacraments.
    All that being said, we each have a responsibility to read both a Catholic Bible and the CCC. There is no excuse for ignorance by the literate.
    CCC: ” 1791 This ignorance can often be imputed to personal responsibility.
    This is the case when a man takes little trouble to find out what is true and good,
    or when conscience is by degrees almost blinded through the habit of committing sin.”
    In such cases, the person is culpable for the evil he commits. “

  27. “…And isn’t the large number of Catholic marriages ending in divorce a reflection on the shepherds and their effectiveness? I’ve never come across a study/discussion on this aspect of this issue.”

    Fear not–you won’t.

  28. This is a two prong issue:

    1) Do NOT blame the Clergy for the sins of individual Laity.
    Literate laity have the responsibility to read both a Catholic Bible and the CCC.
    They have no legitimate excuses for not reading,
    and no legitimate excuses for ignorance.
    2) On the other hand, many Diocese Bishops and many parish Priests do not actively promote the reading of the Bible and CCC for accurate catechesis.
    Catechesis has been lousy over the past 50 years.
    Even many homilies do not teach about sin, death, judgment, Heaven, Hell.
    So this responsibility has been neglected by the Clergy.
    Many people sitting in the pews do not know their Faith accurately and completely. Because they refuse to read these two books at home.
    For quotes from Popes JP II, Benedict, and Francis on the CCC go to:
    “What Catholics REALLY Believe SOURCE”

  29. Ezabelle, because in the USA 6 months marriage preparation classes are required. And you did not seem to know it based upon your posts.

  30. I don’t post. (Not clever enough). I comment.

    Catholicism is a universal Faith. I fear your questioning is loaded with a follow up attack of which I’m not interested in engaging with you on. So I won’t answer you, as it is irrelevant to the topic.
    (I comment to give my POV based on my Faith and life experience. I’ll be answerable to the blog author on that one.)

    So….in response to your 6 month marriage prep….this has not put a dent in the divorce figures, much. 1 year of marriage prep won’t if the kind of education and dialogue is not solid.

    And the kind of dialogue that needs to be had is not being had, and it is the clergy responsibility to have it.

    Although it is the individuals responsibility to inform themselves, in reality most common folk don’t pick up the CCC. That’s just how it is.

  31. All Countries do not have 6 months of required pre-Cana classes for engaged couples.
    The USA does, and has had for some time.
    So the Church in the USA can not be blamed for not teaching.
    And you are right the divorce figures are about 50%.
    Because these lay people do not read the Bible and CCC, and choose to sin.
    Sloth is a capital sin.
    If people are lazy and therefore ignorant
    due to their own lack of actions, they will have to answer to God.
    And they will be held responsible for their own sins.

  32. Mmmmmm -that adds another interesting question to this issue. If we are to obey God’s directive: “What God has joined together, no human being must separate” (Mt 10; 9). Is your judge friend violating God’s will by performing/issuing a divorce? Isn’t he just like a doctor who performs in his profession an abortion?

  33. Not in my view since even if divorce is viewed as a legal fiction, when couples separate someone needs to decide who gets the kids, how property and debts are to be divided, etc. Pope John Paul II indicated back in 2002 that Catholic attorneys and judges should have no part in divorce cases. Then he later hedged acknowledging that Judges have no control over the cases that come before them and that Catholic attorneys could be involved with divorces if they were attempting to gain the best outcome for the kids of a family divorcing. As it happens my friend the Judge is a protestant.

  34. ANNE: This is a minor point but it brings clarity. “God joins them together, they marry each other, and the Priest acts as persona Christi in all Sacraments.” The ordained priest acts “in persona Christi” at the Consecration of the Sacred Species and when the priests says: “I absolve you from your sins…” in the Sacrament of Penance. At all other times, the priest acts as “alter Christi.”
    The priesthood of the laity, a big issue at Vatican II, are all of the brothers and sisters in Christ. The priesthood of the laity act as “alter Christi.” Religious are called “brothers” and “sisters”, but nobody made a big deal of it before Vatican II. Many after Vatican II tried to turn the priesthood of the laity into the ordained priesthood.
    If the husband and the wife were to acknowledged that they, each, were “alter Christi”, their marriage would be in Christ.
    The church lost consecrated women to teach Catholic school. The state lost citizens who understood their sovereignty over themselves and the sovereignty of persons who acted as “alter Christi.”

  35. “All dioceses require couples to spend a significant amount of time preparing for the sacrament of marriage. Most often couples are required to have an initial, face to face meeting with the priest or deacon at least six months before their wedding (over 70 dioceses). A handful of dioceses require either less (four months) or more (nine to twelve months). A growing trend is to ask couples to complete their marriage preparation programs at least six weeks before their wedding. This allows the final phase to be spent in more direct spiritual preparation, i.e. pastoral sessions with the priest or deacon, planning their wedding liturgy, and prayer.”


    The other issue is, regardless of where you live, (and this depends on the Priest), some couples live together before marriage and still attend marriage preparation classes. The priest should refuse to marry them unless they alter their living arrangements, but this does not always happen.
    I would think marriage prep would be ridiculous and pointless under these circumstances.

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