Rorate Caeli

De Mattei - The 80th Birthday of Pope Francis

Pope Francis’ eighty years

Roberto de Mattei
Corrispondenza Romana 
(originally for IL TEMPO, 16th December 2016)

Pope Francis crosses the threshold of 80 years: Ingravescentem aetatem (advanced age), as Paul VI’s motu proprio of November 21st 1970 defines it, which imposes every cardinal to abandon all of their duties, expropriating them also of the right to go into conclave. Paul VI established the rule to create a new “Montinian” curia, but in doing so introduced a profound contradiction inside the more than thousand year praxis of the Church. If in fact advanced age is an obstacle for the head of a diocese or ministry, and even hinders a cardinal from electing a Pope, how can one imagine, that, a cardinal becoming Pope and then reaching the age of 80 can sustain the burden of leading the universal Church? 

In any case, these considerations are not what prompted Pope Francis to declare on December 12th: “I have the sensation that my pontificate will be short, 4 or 5 years.” “Perhaps it won’t be so, but I have the sensation that Lord put me here for a short time  But it is a sensation, for this I’ll always leave the possibilities open.” The real motive for a possible abdication seems not to be the weakening of his forces, but Pope Francis’ awareness of having initiated, in less than three years since his election, what Antonio Socci defined in “Libero” as the inexorable “decline of a pontificate” (November 20th 2016).  Pope Francis’ project “to reform” the Church, with the help of the Bishops’ Synods and docile collaborators has broken down and the balance of the Jubilee Year is more than disappointing. “Pope Francis closed the Holy Door, but his message is accompanied by the rumbling of a subterranean crisis. A civil war is in progress in the Church” Marco Politi wrote in “Il Fatto Quotidiano” (November 21st 2016). The conflict was opened, consciously or not, by Pope Francis himself, most of all after the Exhortation Amoris laetitia, and today the Church is not advancing but sinking, into a ground furrowed by crevices and deep divisions.   

Someone compared the failure of Pope Francis’ pontificate to that of Barack Hussein Obama.  What Washington took eight years to accomplish has now happened in Rome after 3 years: the passage from the euphoria of the first hour to the final depression, having totally missed the targets that had been pre-established.  Yet, it would be a mistake to read Pope Francis’ pontificate in purely political terms.  Pope Francis would never have been able to pronounce Obama’s “Yes, we can”.  For a Pope, unlike a politician, not everything is possible. The Supreme Pontiff has supreme power, full and immediate over the entire Church, but cannot change the Divine Law that Jesus Christ gave to His Church, nor the natural law that God has impressed in the heart of every man. He is the Vicar of Christ, but not his successor. 

The Pope cannot change Holy Scripture, nor Tradition, which are the remote rule of faith in the Church, but must submit to them. It is this the impasse that Pope Bergoglio is faced with today.  The “dubia” presented by the four cardinals (Brandmüller, Burke, Caffarra e Meisner) to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith have placed him in a blind alley. Confronted with the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris laetitia, the cardinals are asking the pope to respond clearly, with a yes or no, to the following question: Can the divorced and remarried civilly who don’t want to abandon the objective state of sin they find themselves in, legitimately receive the Sacrament of the Eucharist? And more in general: is the Divine and natural law still absolute, or in some cases, does it tolerate exceptions?

The answer concerns the fundamentals of morals and the Catholic faith. If what was valid yesterday is not today, what is valid today might not be tomorrow.  But if it is admitted that morality can change, according to the times and circumstances, the Church is destined to be submerged in the relativism of the liquid society of our times. If this is not so,  Cardinal Vallini, needs to be removed, for in his report given at the pastoral congress of the diocese of Rome on November 19th, he affirmed that the divorced and remarried can be admitted to Communion, according to a “discernment that adequately distinguishes case by case”.  His position was made proper on December 2nd by the daily “Avvenire”, the Italian Bishops’ Conference body, according to which, those [words] in Amoris laetitia, were “very clear words to which the Pope gave his imprimatur.”  Yet, can a pope ascribe to the “discernment” of pastors the faculty of breaking the Divine and natural law of which the Church is the guardian?  

If a Pope tries to change the faith of the Church, he renounces in an explicit or implicit manner his mandate as Vicar of Christ and, sooner or later, will be obliged to renounce his pontificate. The hypothesis of a dramatic turn events of this kind in the course of 2017 is not to be excluded. The choice of voluntary abdication would allow Pope Francis to abandon the field as a misunderstood reformer, charging the rigidity of the Curia with the responsibility of his failure. If this should happen it is more probable that it will occur after the next Consistory, which will allow Pope Bergoglio to introduce into the Sacred College a new  group of cardinals close to him,  in order to condition the choice of his successor.  The other hypothesis is that of fraternal correction on the part of the cardinals, which, once made public, would be tantamount to an ascertainment of errors or heresies. 

Nothing could be more wrong, in any case, than Cardinal Hummes phrase: “Those cardinals are four. We are two hundred.”  Apart from the fact that faithfulness to the Gospel is not measured according to numerical criteria, the two hundred cardinals to whom Hummes is referring have never distanced themselves from their four confreres, but with their silence, if anything, from Pope Francis. The first declarations in support of the dubia by Cardinal Paul Josef Cordes, former emeritus President of the Council Cor Unum, and Cardinal George Pell, Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, are significant. Some are beginning to break the silence. It is not two hundred, but it is certainly more than four.

Translation: Contributor Francesca Romana