Rorate Caeli

Special guest-post: "What will the Church be like after Francis?"

[Original posting time: Jun 7, 1:30 PM - scroll down main page for more recent posts. The main excerpts of this text have now been presented to the Italian public by Vaticanist Marco Tosatti for La Stampa. A French version is now available here.] 

We are very pleased and honored to post for the first time an article by a very wise and knowledgeable priest, writing under the pen name of don Pio Pace, whom we invited to contribute and who will be guiding us with good advice whenever he has the time to do so.

His first contribution is one that is very important: should traditional-minded Catholics be anxious about the current pontificate? What about its aftermath?

What will the Church be like after Pope Francis?

a guest-post by Fr. Pio Pace

Has the accession of Francis to the Throne of Peter really and deeply changed things? At close examination, it seems that this Pontificate is much less innovative that one would have thought when it began.

A Pontificate that is less innovative than it was first thought

The multiple "gestures" (not living in the papal apartments, explicit simplicity) show themselves to be without major consequences for the papal institution. As for surprising declarations amidst small sentences on matters which are media-sensitive, they do not seem to have been followed by institutional or magisterial effects. On the crucial area of episcopal and cardinalatial nominations, there are some that are extremely good, others that are extremely lousy, exactly as it happened in the previous pontificate -- the general trend of the episcopates still pointing towards a generally moderate line.

The famous reform of the Curia will necessarily show itself to be very disappointing for those who imagined a Vatican II-style earthquake: it will be limited to the fusion of a certain number of dicasteries, to the creation of a few others, with a reaffirmation of collegiality -- but with the background of a personalization of papal power greater than ever. As Sandro Magister remarked in his blog Chiesa, despite the violent attacks against the Curia and its personnel at the time of the last Conclave, the main heads of dicasteries are certain to remain in place. In fact, the Church does not have anymore either the capability, or the human reserves, to accomplish an upheaval similar to the one of the Council.

In sum, the new pope seems to have believed that he had the key for the fulfillment of Vatican II thanks to a charism of "return to the Gospel", but the realities of the crisis are stubborn: just examine the recent ordinations for Rome, with only 2 priests for the diocese: no Francis effect in this domain, the most important one for the future of the Church (admittedly, one that demands some time, but no measurable effect is noticeable in other areas, either).

What about after this pontificate?

The election of Pope Bergoglio can be understood as a reaction to the previous pontificate. Those who elected Pope Francis wanted to "turn the page", for various reasons: turn the page of a pontificate judged too restorationist, of an impotent governance, of a papacy victimized by all attacks, of a feeble financial administration. But it is quite possible that Francis be the last of the series of the, on the whole, "triumphalist" pontiffs of the post-Council, exalted by the recent canonizations.

In fact, few among the electors of Jorge Bergoglio truly knew him. Past the first moment of pleased or annoyed surprise, it has become evident that the not very efficacious agitation which they witness, the media stunts, the uncertainties carried on as method of government, the doctrinal imprecisions or even blunders, the absence of expression of doctrine at a magisterial level wear out many high-placed prelates today. All of this might cause two effects following the current pontificate:

  • - Undoubtedly, a search for "security": the electors will not wish to throw themselves into new uncertainties, and will chose a candidate who is better prepared in a theoretical point of view, with a more "moderate" image and who will be a less disorganized administrator;
  • - And, above all, a display of realism: one way or the other, we will see an image of the papacy that is truly more modest, more in tune with what the Church really is in the contemporary world. The age of a papacy that is a shiny but deceptive showcase of a starkly weakened Catholicism cannot hold on for too long. 

The affair of the Franciscans of the Immaculate as symptom

Will this realism reach the point of allowing for a clear-sighted inventory of the mistakes of the past half-century?

Nothing so far indicates a wish to face head-on the problems that remain, and that worsen: the dramatic crisis of vocations, the evaporation of the Creed and dogma, the trivialization of the liturgy. For something to truly change, the fundamental question is: will there be churchmen for a new situation?

Besides, one should not be too quick in assuming that nothing will change under Pope Francis. Standing still in a context of decline causes by itself an acceleration of this decline. Moreover, another scenario, much more disquieting, can be imagined for the end of the current pontificate. The agitation and the uncertainties brought upon a matter such as the indissolubility of marriage are already by themselves destructive, even if they are not followed by institutional decisions of a liberal bent. 

There is more: attempts to forcefully impose the "Spirit of the Council" are not excluded. The coercion of the Franciscans of the Immaculate could perfectly extend to the totality of traditional Catholicism? Under what shape? Quite simply by a muzzling of the Summorum Pontificum dynamic, that is, of the acknowledgment of a right of citizenship recognized to a whole swath of Catholicism that is, at least liturgically, against the "Spirit of the Council". One must have in mind that, for Francis, the authorization to celebrate the Traditional Mass is but a tolerance granted by Benedict XVI to a minority on the road to extinction: "I find that it is rather a kind of fashion; if it is a fashion, therefore it is a matter that does not need that much attention." (audience to the Czech bishops) That this sentiment of the Pope rests upon a stunning misreading of the specific reality is not a problem. The problem is that this is the Pope's opinion.

Very concretely, the disappearance of the tiny Commission Ecclesia Dei is very possible in the upcoming redesign of the dicasteries. It is true that, from the point of view of the celebration of the Traditional Mass, this Commission has never truly exercised a veritable activity of protection or promotion, but its disappearance would have a highly negative symbolic effect; if it happened, it would be a true bombshell. As for the transferal of the competence over the complete set of Ecclesia Dei communities to the Congregation for the Institution of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life (the Congregation for Religious), whose Prefect is Cardinal Braz de Aviz and whose Secretary is Abp. Rodríguez Carballo, it would be disastrous for this part of Catholicism.