“Pope Bergoglio himself seems willing to talk about almost every subject but his own beliefs and record,” writes Jesuit Father James V. Schall in a searing essay Monday. And yet these are the questions that “seem most at issue.”
“The crisis at this stage, whether we like it or not, is precisely about the present pope, what he believes and what decisions he made,” writes Father Schall, a prominent author who taught political science at Georgetown University for many years.
“It is not directly about whether Catholicism is objectively true or not,” Schall notes in his essay in Crisis magazine. “Rather it is a question of whether the Catholic Church, in its own testimony about itself, is consistent with its own teachings.”
Father Schall’s reflections stem from a September 21 article published in the German weekly Der Spiegel, titled “The Greatest Crisis in the History of the Church.”
The Church’s present predicament is largely self-inflicted, Father Schall argues, and people are rightly asking for answers, concerning both what has happened and what the Church teaches.
“The implication is that the crisis is of the Church’s own making,” Schall says. “It is not due to some barbarian invasion, a Masonic plot, or some other outside force imposing on it or threatening it. It is being threatened by its own ministers not only for not living according to Christian moral standards but also in not teaching what is good.”
In the face of such widespread confusion, the pope needs to speak, he contends, but that is not what is happening. People of good will ask for answers and receive silence instead.
People are “puzzled by the pope’s refusal to answer what seem to be quite legitimate and straightforward questions about what he teaches,” Schall notes. “Common sense would normally suggest that, if someone is not guilty, he would be anxious to state why, to clear the record, as it were. The pope’s silence, fairly or unfairly, suggests to most people of good will that something was covered up, something is not quite right.”
These people are not scandal-mongers or enemies of the Church, Schall argues. They are fair-minded men and women of good will who simply want to know what is going on. They want to know “the facts.”
“People at all levels and particularly Catholics strive to know what is at stake,” he states. “They are not interested in gossip or innuendo. They rightly want to know the truth. They want to hear a fair assessment of the situation from the pope himself. But they do not want their concerns dismissed.”
A key pillar of the present crisis, Schall suggests, is not just corruption of certain clerics or prelates, but widespread confusion regarding what the Church holds as true regarding sexual relations, and particularly homosexuality.
“The irony, to be specific,” he states, “is that disordered man-man sexual relations have become a civil ‘right’ in many countries but the same relationship is a natural law aberration according to Church teaching.”
“The world watches to see if the Church will join the world in approving these relations as ‘rights’ in the public order and in the Church. Or will it reject them,” Schall notes.
“In other words,” he says, “the Church is being watched to see if it upholds the natural law in its own teachings and practices or whether it joins the world and thereby undermine its claim to consistency and truth of doctrine since its beginning.”
Schall’s words refer indirectly to allegations made by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the former papal nuncio to the United States, regarding the pope’s promotion of openly homosexual prelates to positions of authority.
Francis appointed Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio and Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia to key positions in the Vatican, even though both of them “belong to the homosexual current in favor of subverting Catholic doctrine on homosexuality,” Viganò wrote in an August 25 bombshell report.
“These homosexual networks, which are now widespread in many dioceses, seminaries, religious orders, etc., act under the concealment of secrecy and lies,” he declared, “and strangle innocent victims and priestly vocations, and are strangling the entire Church.”
Chicago’s Cardinal Blase Cupich is one of those who is “blinded by his pro-gay ideology,” Viganò alleged.
The pope’s apparent downplaying of Cardinal McCarrick’s homosexual abuse would seem to be fruit of the same trend, he suggested.
Thus, Father Schall writes, “we can say that the issue is not over whether the pope is a sinner, naïve, or weak, but whether he has approved teachings or moral behaviors that he is obliged to oppose.”
Schall also suggests that Pope Francis has invested much time and effort into political and secular topics such as climate change and immigration while seemingly downplaying key issues of Catholic moral teaching.
As an example, Schall cites the pope’s Letter on the World’s Day of Prayer for Creation, which focuses on access “to clean water,” a topic that would seem to fall outside the specific mission of the Catholic Church.
“Christ walked on water, turned water into wine, helped a woman at a well draw it up, and was baptized with it in the Jordan,” Schall notes. “He never designed a dam to provide water for Nazareth or Jerusalem. He evidently assumed that men could eventually figure this task out without the need of revelation.”
“A pope can mention the problem of water availability or other such issues, but his is not the task to provide technical solutions even if he had a doctorate in water engineering,” he adds.
More importantly, many people of good “will wonder why, if the pope can talk of clean water, he cannot talk about his own record or what he holds on issues that certainly do fall within his competency. These latter issues are what perplex people,” he states.
The on-going saga addressed by Der Spiegel may or may not be the greatest crisis in church history, Schall suggests. “Whatever ranking we want to give it—the worst, the second worst, the tenth worst, or a minor glitch—in the public eye, it certainly is a crisis of major proportions that challenges the credibility of the Church on its own terms.”
One way or another, the greatest “crisis” is not about the fact of sin or sinners, he says. “It is about the internal order of the Church itself” and “whether it believes and upholds its own doctrines.”
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