Pope Francis Finally Gets Something Right

Or at least half right.

In his Christmas message, the Pope warned against Catholics who are too rigid in their faith:

We have to beware of the temptation of assuming a rigid outlook.  Rigidity that is born from fear of change and ends up disseminating stakes and obstacles in the ground of the common good, turning it into a minefield of misunderstanding and hatred.

This is in the vein we are accustomed to hearing Pope Francis's statements.  The problem is with Christians who believe too much, especially Catholics who are too loyal to the Church.  Nothing new here, but, then, in a rare moment of reflection, the Pope analyzes the Church's current position in the world:

Today we are no longer the only ones that produce culture, no longer the first nor the most listened to..The faith in Europe and in much of the West is no longer an obvious presumption but is often denied, derided, marginalised and ridiculed.'

Truer words have not  been spoken in the Vatican since 13 March 2013.  Inevitably, the Pope refuses to look at the reason why the Church is no longer listened to.  Of course, there are scandals and dissensions that have brought the Church into disrepute, but nothing has so undermined the authority of the Vatican and of the Church as a whole as the irresponsible and demoralizing pronouncements of the Holy Father and his progressive allies.

How many times have we heard, at least since the end of the 1950's, that young people will not return to the Church nor vocations increase until we make everything groovy?  And now that they have made everything too groovy for words, with leftist policies on immigration, pop music and pop liturgies, a moral theology so thin it would constitute indecent exposure on a nude beach, what then?

What then is the obvious fact that the Church, judged by external signs, is dying on the vine.   Why would an adolescent want to go to Mass to listen to watered pop music, when he has a stereo system and a stash in his bedroom?  Why would the unhappy and dissatisfied American masses, those who lead what Thoreau called "lives of quiet desperation" that have become all too noisy--why would these people seek consolation and inspiration from a Church whose hierarchy encourages and protects vice and quite obviously believes in nothing more inspiring than the platform of the Democratic Party?

Our Evangelical friends are in the habit of asking, when they are faced with a crisis, "What would Jesus do?"  This is not always an entirely fair question, since few of us can, when the wine runs out at the wedding feast, call for barrels of water and turn them into wine.  On the other hand, we do know what our Lord said, when faced with a corrupt ecclesiastical hierarchy:

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness....

Alas, such statements are all too judgmental and reflect a rigidity of attitude Pope Francis could only condemn.


Avatar photo

Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming is president of the Fleming Foundation. He is the author of six books, including The Morality of Everyday Life and The Politics of Human Nature, as well as many articles and columns for newspapers, magazines,and learned journals. He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a B.A. in Greek from the College of Charleston. He served as editor of Chronicles: a Magazine of American Culture from 1984 to 2015 and president of The Rockford Institute from 1997-2014. In a previous life he taught classics at several colleges and served as a school headmaster in South Carolina

17 Responses

  1. Roger McGrath says:

    Many would say Vatican II betrayed the faithful and was the beginning of the end for the Church. One change the Church didn’t make, however, and probably should have was making celibacy optional for priests. The best debate I’ve ever seen in my life was between two Jesuits, Malachi Martin and Terrance Sweeney back in the early 1980s. Martin thought celibacy was essential and Sweeney thought celibacy should be optional. Sweeney had done years of research on the issue and had conducted a nationwide survey of American Bishops, the majority of whom wanted celibacy optional. Martin and Sweeney were both ridiculously knowledgeable, articulate, and persuasive. They were simply brilliant. What was happening to the Church by the 1960s and 70s was a lack of men going into the vocations, particularly the priesthood. Then, too, those men who did make that vocational discernment were often homosexuals. Everyone on the ground knew this was happening–the priesthood was becoming a homosexual club. Straight men were becoming a minority in seminaries. I had a good friend, who shared my surname but was not a relative, who taught at the principal seminary for Los Angeles. He said half of his students were clearly homosexual. Of the other half, he could only guess. That was 40 years ago. I suspect the Church has been unwilling to confront this problem because it doesn’t have enough priests period, straight or gay. I suspect straight males would once again become priests if celibacy were made optional. The Church forced Sweeney to suppress his research and survey of Bishops. Sweeney finally went his own way, got married, and became a highly successful screenwriter. The Church lost a brilliant priest.

  2. Dot says:

    I don’t understand why the complaints and nothing is done by the person complaining. Is it fear that Jesus chose Peter to build his church and that you would betray Jesus’s order to Peter? In that case are you worshiping Peter? Why on earth did He focus on Peter? At this Christmas season, so close now, go and worship at an Orthodox Church. You will feel blessed. Have a Wonderful Christmas and memorable 2020.

  3. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    Roger, I think most thinking Catholics would take that view of Vatican II. The clerical celibacy question has three sides:

    1) The chumps at Vat II should not have been allowed to change anything.

    2) The issue is not one of of orthodoxy but of the order in the Church.

    3) The Orthodox option should be open: Married men may become priests, but priests may not marry.

    4) As our friend Fr Hugh argues, either priests have to be married or live in a community..

    Dot, I’m sorry, but i don’t understand the question, Surely one may complain, criticize, protest,without being in a position to effect change. The bit about Peter goes past me. God bless you, dear Dot, and have a merry Christmas. Two of our children and two grandchildren are coming from NC

  4. Josh Doggrell says:

    Dead on. The state of the church (both Catholic and Protestant) is in very bad shape. My experience is that the ministry, aside from being consumed with white guilt and terrified of being called names, is much more interested in increasing the number of fannies in seats than the content of doctrine or the quality of life-changing Christian living.

  5. James D. says:

    Mr. Doggrell,

    My experience, in my local diocese, is that they are more than content to manage a decline. From over 300,000 active members in the mid-1990’s, there are now fewer than 120,000. For my entire lifetime, the Church has been consolidating, closing schools and churches, and watching their numbers dwindle. In 1960 there were over 24,000 baptisms in my diocese. There were fewer than 4,000 last year. Every time the diocese merges churches and schools, the congregation and enrollment decline. There is not now and there never has been a plan or a desire to stabilize or expand. Their plan is just to continue to consolidate until there is nothing left, but perhaps the Cathedral and a handful of parishioners. This appears to be what the bishops and priests want. My daughter is in the children’s choir. There are approximately 30 kids K-12 in a consolidated, six parish choir. When I was a kid, in the 80’s, each of these parishes had their own choirs of 100 kids or more. Five of the six parishes had schools, with 300+ kids in each school. There are now two schools with less than 200 kids in each school.

  6. Harry Colin says:

    I suspect that James D. might be referring to Pittsburgh, which is where I grew up and attended parochial schools from grades 1-12. Just to look back a little further, I began high school in the 1970-71 school year. Since then 40 Catholic high schools have closed. If you back up one year – to 1969 – four were closed in that year alone.

    I understand that some of this is attributable to the collapse of the steel industry, but not all of it, as many closures were made between the 60’s and the late 70’s/early 80’s. Panic and indifference are not potent strategies to sustain and pass on the faith. As that crusty old football coach Bill Parcells was fond of saying, “You are what your record says you are.”

  7. James D. says:

    Yes, Mr. Colin. I am referring to the Pittsburgh Diocese. I attended Catholic schools from K-12. My grade school had nearly 400 kids K-8. In the 70’s, the school had 600 kids. The school is, shockingly, still open, but is down to 120. It is soon to close.

  8. Frank Brownlow says:

    We have an unbelieving, heretic pope. All his talk about rigidity is aimed at Catholics who actually believe the faith, especially the younger ones, many of them married with growing families, who are attending the Latin Mass, if they can find one. Francis does not begin to understand that what Catholics want, especially the younger ones, is authenticity. Here in western Mass, we have a huge, empty Irish church attended by a sprinkling of old folks, whose idea of a parish activity is a bus-ride to a local casino. Drive half an hour to Enfield, just over the CT border, and you’ll find a thriving parish, people of all ages including young couples with babies. The reason? Their 11.00 parish mass is a beautifully celebrated, beautifully sung Latin Mass. The priest’s homily is always worth listening to, and his congregation is devout and attentive. If our bishop had any sense he would turn over one of his empty churches to the Priestly Fraternity of S. Peter–but that would entail admitting the obvious, that the diocesan system is for the most part a failure, and he’s not going to do that. So, to quote John Milton, “The hungry sheep look up and are not fed.”
    Re the dioceses, it’s high time, too, that someone should research and write up the story of their infestation by homosexual networks.

  9. Dot says:

    Dr. Fleming: Re: Peter — Didn’t Jesus say, “Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my church? Wasn’t that instruction to Peter to be the first Pope and the following Popes to become the inheritors of the first Pope who was chosen by Jesus such that the Catholic Church can claim a linear inheritance from the very first Pope who was chosen by Jesus? Doesn’t that give an incentive for the faithful to follow the teachings of the Roman Church? I don’t understand why you don’t understand. Dr. McGrath complained and rightly so, about the state of the church, the celibacy requirements for the priests, the number of homosexuals in the priesthood and unwillingness of the church to confront it. The number of churches that are shutting down is astounding. The people are not being spiritually fed.

  10. Dot says:

    Dr. Fleming: Re: Peter — Didn’t Jesus say, “Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my church? Wasn’t that instruction to Peter to be the first Pope and the following Popes to become the inheritors of the first Pope who was chosen by Jesus such that the Catholic Church can claim a linear inheritance from the very first Pope who was chosen by Jesus? Doesn’t that give an incentive for the faithful to follow the teachings of the Roman Church? I don’t understand why you don’t understand. Dr. McGrath complained and rightly so, about the state of the church, the celibacy requirements for the priests, the number of homosexuals in the priesthood and unwillingness of the church to confront it. The number of churches that are shutting down is astounding. The people are not being spiritually fed.

  11. Robert Reavis says:

    This is from the old Jesuit rag ,America, from many years ago which only demonstrates how much we have lost in terms of understanding perennial teachings.

    Chastity is a virtue required of all men and women according to their state of life; it is opposed to the vice of lust. When we speak of priestly celibacy, the virtue of chastity is of course implied, but in this instance the virtue is assumed to give shape and spiritual meaning to that state in an especially enhancing way. Nonetheless, the virtue of chastity is distinct from the state of being unmarried. As will become clear below, celibacy must also be carefully distinguished from continence.

    Second, the requirement of the celibate state for ordination is an ecclesiastical discipline, a ruling by the church for the church. To put it negatively, the requirement of celibacy is not a doctrine or dogma. It is not, as such, a “teaching.” The media have in fact been fairly clear on this aspect of the issue, but it still needs to be mentioned. As a discipline the requirement of celibacy is something that can change, has changed and might in the future change. A few scholars argue, however, that while the discipline concerning celibacy may be subject to change, the tradition of continence for married deacons, priests and bishops is of apostolic origin. If that is true, the church would feel less free to change. Nonetheless, the Second Vatican Council introduced the order of “permanent deacons,” who might be married and, if so, are permitted to continue to have conjugal relations with their wives. It specifically determined, however, that these deacons could not go on to priestly ordination.

    Third, while this is a discipline or law, the official approach today, as indicated in the new Code of Canon Law, promulgated in 1983, recognizes chaste celibacy as a charism, a special gift from God. The church ordains only those who have received this charism. It thus does not so much impose celibacy as invite to ordination those who have the gift.

    Fourth, as a requirement for ordination celibacy is peculiar to the Western church (or Latin rite). Other churches in union with Rome (Ukranian, Melkite and others) have in this regard different disciplines whose origins reach far back into their traditions. They allow married clergy, but with certain restrictions, especially for ordination to the episcopate.

    This means—and this is my fifth point—that even today there are priests from churches in full communion with Rome, hence fully Catholic, who are married. There are therefore legitimately married priests in the Catholic Church. The steady opposition of the American Latin-rite hierarchy to the presence of married Eastern Catholic priests in North America has generally prevented married clergy from those churches serving here. This policy was formalized in 1929 with the Vatican decree Cum Data Fuerit. In recent years some bishops in the Ukranian and Ruthenian Catholic Churches in North America have not altogether followed this policy. Moreover, there are in the United States a small number of former Anglican priests, married, who have converted to Catholicism and are now legitimately functioning as Roman Catholic priests. They are not obliged to observe continence with their spouses.

    Finally, we must clearly distinguish between the discipline of celibacy that is required of (almost) all priests of the Latin rite and the vow of chastity freely undertaken by priests (and others) who are members of religious orders. For the priests in religious orders, the vow fits into the triad of chastity, poverty and obedience, which in principle commits them to a more total availability for ministry or, in the case of monk-priests, for the worship of God. There is considerable confusion today about this distinction, with even some high ecclesiastics speaking as if the diocesan clergy had pronounced the traditional three vows, with all they imply. The members of religious orders also live together in community, which in practice has precluded wife and children. Even if the discipline of celibacy should be changed to allow diocesan priests to marry, priests who are members of religious orders, by definition and by their own choice, would not marry.

  12. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    Thanks to all for the comments. Thanks, Robert, for putting up concise statement of points I should have made earlier on subject of clerical celibacy. One might add that the Orthodox rule is that no priest may marry but a married man may become a priest. If a cleric wishes to become a bishop, though, he must be a monk.

  13. Dot says:

    P. S.: Yes, the Orthodox option should be open. In the Orthodox Church a male studying for the priesthood must marry before becoming a priest. However, his marriage comes second to God. If he doesn’t marry before becoming a priest he cannot marry thereafter. He would be eligible for a higher order in the priesthood.

  14. Vince Cornell says:

    I disagree regarding allowing married priests within the Latin Rite of the Church. For one, I don’t really think it will solve any problems and will likely make things worse. It seems the last thing we need in the Latin Rite is to discard yet another piece of our traditional identity. While the Orthodox option is valid, it works within communities that have the experience and tradition within which that option exists. No such thing exists on the Latin side, and conditions are not optimal for experimentation. In a culture of chaotic mass immigration, unrestrained feminism, and no-thought divorce, it’s not hard for one to imagine priest scandals involving affairs, abortions, and welfare cases suddenly overwhelming the creaky Barque of Peter. I guess it would give Pope Francis something to do – he could set up another whole quickie-tribunal system to adjudicate child support payments from diocesan coffers.

    It’s not a problem with the practice of celibate priests – it’s a problem with our men. We have defective men and defective communities. Changing the practice is treating a symptom.

    I’m likely overly simplistic in my thinking, but if there is to be any solution to the crisis in the Latin Church it will only be solved by those seeking to restore those important aspects of the traditional Catholic identity in their families and communities. Which means, also, that communities will have to be built, as most places and parishes have more in common with a Costco on a Saturday afternoon than an actual community. It’s a solution that only works itself out over the course of several hundred years, but I always thought that’s the way the serious game is played. In the long run, I put my money on the FSSP over the Diocesan structure w/ married priests.

    Incidentally, what serious married man, trying to raise a family in these insane times, would actually want to take on the responsibilities of being a priest? It seems like one impossible mission at a time is more than enough!

  15. Raymond Olson says:

    New Year’s thanks to my friends Robert Reavis and Vince Cornell. You enlarge my understanding and encourage my hope.

  16. David Wihowski says:

    Mr. Cornell makes an excellent point about the practicality of married priests. As the child of a Protestant pastor (raised in the 60s and 70s– hardly as difficult a time for parents as now), the stress caused by the two foci, parish and family, was very high and often affected the children of our household adversely. I can only guess that the situation is much worse for pastors who are fathers now.

  17. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    Whether or not married men may become priests in the Roman Church is, by itself, a question of little interest to me, and it should be of little interest to anyone who is not Catholic aspiring to the priesthood. The Orthodox system has its flaws, and so does ours. I have known a fair number of Catholic and Orthodox priests. On the whole, the Orthodox–whether married priests or celibate monks–have been, so far as I can tell, much better men, though the American Church, try as it might, does frequently fail to prevent the ordination of good priests. And, for all the bad things one might justly say about the clergy in America, the good priests are among our most precious treasures.

    The failings of the Catholic clergy, especially in America, are symptomatic of a society and culture that cannot produce men of any type. We either get bullying savages or effeminate cowards–or, in the case of Hollywood heroes–effeminate cowards who play savages in the films.

    I do agree that since Vat II, the powers that be in the Church should resist any temptation to “reform” its institutions, since “reform” in our time means only subversion and destruction.