HABEMUS Papam: the little we know of the new Pope Francis is an incomplete mosaic. He is no revolutionary: he is disliked by his fellow Latin American Jesuits for his attempts, as Provincial of the Society of Jesus in Argentina, to rein in their demented “liberation theology”.
He is firm in defence of the essential doctrines of the Church and strongly anti-abortion. The homosexual lobby will take little comfort from his election. As the leading opponent of homosexual marriage in Argentina he wrote to the Carmelite nuns of his diocese regarding the proposed legislation on 22 June 2010: “It is not a mere legislative project… but rather a ‘move’ of the father of lies who wishes to confuse and deceive the children of God.”
His defining preoccupation is with the poor, but in the manner of Mother Teresa rather than in any socialist sense. Here, however, may lie pitfalls for his pontificate. The Holy Father’s adoption of the name Francis, rather than a traditional Papal name, may have been ill-advised.
At a time of crisis, the Church needs the stabilising support of a sense of continuity, such as the style “Benedict XVI” conveyed. Any apprehension of a return to the radicalism of the nightmare pontificate of Paul VI would have a disastrous effect. Gesture papacy, such as Paul VI’s donating the Papal tiara to be sold for the (very minimal) benefit of the poor, gravely undermined the authority of the Church.
The sex scandals, including recent allegations of a homosexual clique in the Vatican, are the most urgent problem confronting the Church, but not the most important. The secular media cannot see beyond sex and money; but the most serious crisis is that affecting faith.
Fifty years ago, John XXIII threw open the windows of the Church to the world – and look what flew in. In the cataclysmic aftermath of the Second Vatican Council half-a-million priests, monks, nuns and other religious personnel defected from their vocations. In the United States, in 1965, there were 1,575 priestly ordinations; by 2002 there were 450. In France, the number of priests was down to 35,000 by 1980; today there are fewer than 19,000.
Nearer home, in Scotland, Mass attendance was down to 283,000 by 1990; by 2008 it had slumped to 184,000. In England and Wales, Mass attendance has fallen by 40 per cent. Yet, comparatively considered, these are flourishing vineyards, with attendance in France down to single figures, while in urban Holland it is 3 per cent.
Ignorance of the essential doctrines of the faith is rampant, with 53 per cent of American Catholics expressing support for ordination of women, despite an infallible Papal declaration of its impossibility. Among US Catholics aged 18 to 44, 70 per cent believe the Eucharist is only a “symbolic reminder” of Christ.
These figures, of course, are bogus in that people espousing such heresies are not Catholics at all; but the absence of proper catechesis – imposed by bishops and religious education “experts” across the developed world – has created a black hole where knowledge of the faith should be, a vacuum ineffectually filled with “justice ’n’ peace” and ecological fatuities. No wonder 96 per cent of pupils at Catholic schools in England and Wales have apostatised by the time they leave.
Yet this gargantuan decline is the fruit of the Second Vatican Catastrophe whose 50th anniversary we are invited to “celebrate”. This mass apostasy is officially termed “Renewal” – a renewal that culminated in a massive sex scandal, the disgrace of a cardinal and the abdication of an exhausted Pope.
Benedict XVI, however, had a penetrating insight into the primary cause of the crisis of faith. In his autobiography, while still Cardinal Ratzinger, he wrote: “I am convinced that the ecclesial crisis in which we find ourselves today depends in great part upon the collapse of the liturgy…”
He was articulating the old maxim lex orandi, lex credendi, meaning that the rules by which people worship form their beliefs. A guitar-strumming, man-centred liturgy will promote indiscipline and heterodoxy, as experienced over the past half-century. The sanctuary dancers are elderly now impeded by Zimmer frames and on waiting lists for hip replacements: there is nothing more pathetic than a revolution that has burned itself out.
Commentators claim the liturgical practice of Pope Francis in Argentina was not well-disposed towards the Tridentine Mass. Yet the resurgence of the Old Rite, to which young people are increasingly attracted, was the one great legacy of Benedict XVI and is the most efficacious instrument of re-evangelisation.
It is to be hoped the new Pontiff, as a loving pastor, will recognise the importance of this fount of genuine spiritual renewal and foster its growth as a means of spreading grace throughout the beleaguered Church. «