A bleak view of the Church’s immediate future

…is offered by commenter “Deacon Augustine” over at Fr. Ray Blake’s blog, speculating on Pope Francis’ agenda:

“What is he going to deliver?”

Good question. Perhaps the answer can be found by looking at what he has already delivered in his previous Archdiocese of Buenos Aires?

By all accounts, its not a success story. The whole Latin American church seems to be reeling and failing under the assault of North American charismatic cults. As the episcopate in that part of the world has failed so miserably to rise to the challenge, I will never understand why the conclave believed it would be a good idea to elect one of their number to the papacy. An African or Asian Cardinal would have made more sense if we were to have a Pope who understood missionary expansion of the Church.

As for the hopes of reform, I suppose that comes down to what you look for in “reform”. He certainly never cleaned out the filth in the priesthood in his own archdiocese, so don’t expect anything like this from him as Pope – after all, who is he to judge? At best we are likely to get tinkering with structures which will see more powers vested in corrupt episcopal conferences. They in turn will feel more immune from the reach of Rome and the centrifugal forces of schism will grow.

In the same blog post, Fr. Blake notes that the Church is fracturing — the days of monolithic centrality are over and it is not clear what, if anything, is really holding it all together anymore. Certainly not doctrine, which no one really believes anymore, anyway, and the expression of which is constantly being fudged in the service of almost-psychotically-optimistic evangelical and ecumenical agendas; certainly not the liturgy, which varies radically not only between dioceses, not only between parishes, but even within parishes, where a trilingual youth Mass with guitars and trombones can be separated from a solemn High Mass in Latin by scarcely a few hours and where there is often a subtle and unspoken animus between the two groups of Mass-goers; certainly not an appreciation for the Church’s historicity, which nearly everyone (from laics in Bermuda shorts to bishops with weird little pectoral crosses) hates.

People forget how close the Church came to catastrophe when, after the long and catastrophic reign of Paul VI, many European bishops (especially in Germany) were seen as being on the verge of open schism; disaster was averted only by JPII’s efforts to make himself the visible icon of Catholic unity, becoming so beloved of the people as to make schism unthinkable. A good strategy for a young man (which he was) with a clear plan to lead the Church out of the mess (which he wasn’t). Maybe this is the key to understanding Pope Francis’ thus-far bizarre Pontificate: he is trying his best to do the impossible task of governing an ungovernable Church.

21 thoughts on “A bleak view of the Church’s immediate future

  1. “People forget how close the Church came to catastrophe when, after the long and catastrophic reign of Paul VI, many European bishops (especially in Germany) were seen as being on the verge of open schism; disaster was averted only by JPII’s efforts to make himself the visible icon of Catholic unity, becoming so beloved of the people as to make schism unthinkable.”

    I’m a Protestant, and not familiar with this part of church history. Could someone with a bit more knowledge elaborate on this? Who might have schismed and over what?

    • In general, Europeans saw Vatican II as going much farther in principle than its implementation allowed, so when the Vatican began to poo-poo their abuses, they huffed and threatened schism. The reaction to Humanae Vitae was a good example of this. The Germans were and still are today the worst of the lot, but the French, Austrians, and even some Americans evidently weren’t content to be outdone.

  2. I’m coming to believe that schism is actually the best possible outcome. In the long run, it’s just not sustainable for the Church to maintain a doctrinal core that 95% or more of nominal Catholics reject. Given the realities of Leftist media control, those 95% are irretrievably lost. The only way for the Catholic faith to survive at all is for that less than 5% to break off before being completely submerged. If schism had happened earlier, the remnant Church might have been 20%. If it takes another decade, it might be 0.5%.

    For theological and publicity reasons, it would be best if the other side initiates the break. A pope who wanted this to happen could make it happen in one day–just reinstate the anti-modernist oath with an anti-sodomy clause. With a pope who is desperate to avoid schism, or who even sympathizes more with the 95%, it’s much more difficult to pull off.

    • There are about a million Catholic priests worldwide. There are close to a thousand priests in explicitly traditionalist orders of various sorts (including SSPX, FSSP, and others). That’s 0.1% already. It’s much more than that once you take account of the age structure of the priesthood. Looking at guys under 40, say, I’ll bet there are close to 0.5% traditionalist. Then there are all the diocesan priests who are or wish they were traditionalist—in the US and France, that’s a lot of them. In fact, if you confine attention to those two countries and younger priests, traditionalists are at least 10%, more if you generously define traditionalist.

      My current parish has a new, young, cassock-clad priest as parochial vicar. One of the parishes I drive past to get to my current parish has a new, young, cassock-clad priest as parochial vicar. These guys sound vaguely Catholic when they give homilies, and the Novus Ordo Mass they celebrate is reverent. Nobody would count these guys as traditionalists, but . . .

      Twice recently at other parishes in the US, I have heard old, Irish (not Irish-American) priests complaining gently in homilies about reception in the hand and about reception without a proper bow beforehand. Complaints which came complete with reminiscing about the respect and fear with which people approached the Lord in the Host when the priests were children.

      My point is that what is going on right now in the Church is not obviously worse than what would be happening in the presence of explicit schism. If one really wants tradition, traditional teaching taught traditionally and with the old Mass, then one can have it in many places. There is a fifth column of traddy and traddy lite priests. There is a safe, quasi-external reservoir of tradition in the SSPX. Finally, if the Church became the Church again explicitly, the truce with liberalism would be off. It was not so long ago that the Spanish Republicans were killing priests, monks, and nuns by the thousand. There is no Franco in sight, today. The prudential calculus is not easy.

      Another point is the incomprehensible behavior of the “Pope Emeritus” right before he became Pope Emeritus. He scuttled the SSPX negotiations, appointed Abp. Mueller Prefect of the CDF, quit, and then his hand-picked Cardinals chose the current Pontiff (just how did this latter thing happen, anyway?). If you were trying to keep the SSPX far away from Roman control, you could not have done better.

      Yet another point is the behavior of the former Sec of State, Cardinal Sodano. Remember how he refused to vacate his office and went on pretending to be Secretary of State after Benedict XVI fired him? If the Pope fired and excommunicated all the Modernists and Masons in the Vatican, what would happen? Would he succeed? Would he live through the night?

      • Yet another point is the behavior of the former Sec of State, Cardinal Sodano. Remember how he refused to vacate his office and went on pretending to be Secretary of State after Benedict XVI fired him? If the Pope fired and excommunicated all the Modernists and Masons in the Vatican, what would happen? Would he succeed? Would he live through the night?

        I recall hearing an anecdote, I think from Whispers in the Loggia or maybe the Moynihan Letters, about Pope Benedict’s reaction when he first heard of Vatileaks. He became dejected and supposedly said quietly something like, “These are the people who serve my food.” Maybe apocryphal, maybe not — but it’s not far-fetched.

  3. the days of monolithic centrality are over and it is not clear what, if anything, is really holding it all together anymore

    The traditional, pre-V2 theologians had a ready answer to this. The Church is held together by the bonds of the theological virtues of Faith and Charity (I’m not sure why they left out Hope). Note that this is not dependent in any way upon the administrative “monolithic centrality” of the 19th century Church, which Fr Blake has elsewhere criticised.

    If you or anyone else accepts the proposition that the main body of the Church – including, presumably, the Holy Father – has fallen into heresy, the answer must be some form of theory, such as “sedevacantism”, which purports to maintain the existence of the Church without subscribing to the alleged heresy.

    Of course, I don’t for one moment endorse this absurd solution – I merely offer it to show the consequences of this line of thinking.

    We’ve got a liberal Pope. He’s not the first and he may not be the last. Threatening to break away because you don’t like him is frankly Protestant. I feel sure that Fr Blake (a fine priest, whose Mass I have attended in Brighton) would not approve at all).

    • The traditional, pre-V2 theologians had a ready answer to this. The Church is held together by the bonds of the theological virtues of Faith and Charity (I’m not sure why they left out Hope).

      My point is that it is not clear that the faith of Peter is the same as the faith of, for instance, almost any randomly-selected American laic or European bishop; and if it isn’t then we can hardly appeal to it as the source of Catholic unity anymore.

      We’ve got a liberal Pope. He’s not the first and he may not be the last. Threatening to break away because you don’t like him is frankly Protestant. I feel sure that Fr Blake (a fine priest, whose Mass I have attended in Brighton) would not approve at all).

      I think you’re misreading me (which is probably my fault as I’m not a very clear thinker or writer). I don’t want to break away from Rome nor do I have plans to, nor even so much as the opportunity (even if I were so inclined I’d have to travel at least a few hours to get to an SSPX-affiliated parish). It’s not conservative-minded Catholics, the SSPX excepted, that I’m suggesting are at risk of schism here.

      “Deacon Augustine” seems to think Pope Francis has misdiagnosed the problem and so is prescribing the wrong treatment. I’m suggesting here that he has maybe at least partially correctly diagnosed the problem and that his behavior is intended as preventative medicine along the lines of JPII — to make himself the visible icon of Catholic unity where little (if anything) else remains. Time will tell if that strategy succeeds; whether or not it does, I don’t think he can be faulted for trying.

    • I prefer not to use “Protestant” as a synonym for “disobedient”. Breaking with Rome is only Protestant if it’s done in the name of Lutheran-type soteriology. However, you are right that in the current billion-person Catholic Church, 99% of whom are heretically liberal, it is inevitable that there will be liberal popes (the current one isn’t that bad, not nearly as bad as what will be coming), and given what liberalism is, it is inevitable that these liberal popes will promote sin. The only way for the Catholic faith, and not just the Catholic bureaucracy, to survive in its pre-conciliar integrity is through something like the SSPX.

      If there were such a parish within driving distance, I would be seriously considering joining them. After all, they have been proven right about so much. (Whether they would want me–a poorly-educated Catholic who has never been to a Latin Mass–is another issue, of course.)

      • Bonald,

        This sounds like Jesuit-ese to my ears, i.e., you can’t be pinned down for saying that an organization of at best dubious ecclesiastical standing is justified in its defiance of Roman authority, nevertheless this “major subject” is heavy on the mind.

  4. Reg may not be happy that I agree with him but he’s got a point.

    You can’t go about telling people that they must accept the authority of the Pope only to diss it when the Pope puts forward a teaching (or approach) you don’t like.

  5. It was not so long ago that the Spanish Republicans were killing priests, monks, and nuns by the thousand. There is no Franco in sight, today

    If today they would not massacre priests and nuns, it is not that today’s Spanish Republicans are different, but that today’s priests and nuns are different.

  6. An African or Asian Cardinal would have made more sense if we were to have a Pope who understood missionary expansion of the Church.

    Are they any better? For example, I thought African priests threw out celibacy a long time ago.

    http://mag.newsweek.com/2010/04/06/the-trouble-with-celibacy.html

    And here’s a journal about African Catholicism, with some—err—interesting language about “making faith become culture” or some such nonsense. And an argument for condoms.

    http://www.saintleo.edu/academics/schools/school-of-arts-sciences/international-journal-of-african-catholicism.aspx

    Anyway, I think you all need to man up, be logical, and realize that there are 3 possibilities here:

    1. God has repented (i.e., changed his mind) about Christianity as practiced the last two millennia. (c.f., Genesis 6:6 and Exodus 32: 14). You’re all floating on a raft that has been divinely sunk. Time to join the snake-charmers. Grab a bongo and preach some prosperity gospel. Start worshipping Jesus the social worker.

    2. The Last Day is nigh. From this moment forward, the True Church will begin to shrink until a tiny faithful remnant is left. No point in fighting it. Huddle in, write your blogs, and watch Lucifer consume the Church with a third world virus and a first world apathy.

    3. Atheism. Christianity was a noble thing that helped to propel Europe into the cultural stratosphere, but its time is long since done, you can’t argue against that, and clearly atheism (as C.S. Lewis said) is the most manly and obvious alternative. And the best thing is that atheism fits very well with social conservatism. Better than 20th century Christianity, in fact.

    • Great comment. I don’t agree completely, however.

      You are leaving out the possibility that the Church is amidst a crisis like the Arian crisis or Iconoclasm. It’s easy to fall into looking at history through a telescope so that these previous crises look like little hiccups in the rise of Christendom. They did not feel like little hiccups to the people going through them.

      • Right. We are more deeply acquainted with the evils of our own age than those of past ages, and so we tend to weight them more heavily in our comparisons. No one who had to live through the Dolcinians et al. in the pre-Tridentine Church would think a few sissy bishops and underfed pervert priests would compare.

    • Regarding the Dolcinians:

      Prolonged tortures and public burnings at the stake were used to put down the Dolcinian movement. These methods are no longer available to the Church.

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