Although their mindsets may be different, at least on the surface, in addressing the shortcomings of this pontificate, both authors are convinced that Pope Francis is doing serious damage to the Church. According to Lawler, "...I believed despite his sometimes-alarming remarks, Francis was not a radical, was not leading the Church away from the ancient sources of the Faith. But gradually, reluctantly, painfully, I came to the conclusion that he was." Hence, Neumayr's description of the pope as a “revolutionary," and Lawler's as a "radical" pontiff, really amount to a distinction without a difference.
It should be stressed that Lawler openly admits that, at the beginning of the new pontificate, he "was one of millions," who had succumbed to the "Francis effect," which "captured the public imagination." As a positive sign of this trend, Lawler informs us that his friends and neighbors wanted to discuss the Faith and the meaning of the Gospel, not politics at the Vatican, or priestly scandals. But slowly, and at first, imperceptibly, Lawler began a reversal of his early faith in the pontiff: "The Roman pontiff should be a focus of unity in the Church. Francis, regrettably, has become a source of division."
Lawler notes, and Neumayr would agree, that another disturbing aspect of the current pontiff's radicalism is his style of governance. Lawler: "..an autocratic style, which contrasts sharply with the promises of collegial and synodal governance, and the radical nature of the program that he is relentlessly advancing." Here both Neumayr and Lawler are reading from the same page.
But these two Catholic laymen are not alone in noticing what is happening during Francis's pontificate: Sohrab Ahmari, an Iranian, who, in 2016, converted to Catholicism, wrote in The Wall Street Journal: "As with other recent disputes - communion for the divorced-and remarried; the status of the Latin Mass; Vatican engagement with China's Communist regime - conservatives are on one side and Pope Francis is on the other."
Lawler makes a crucial point about this pope, who should not "be on one side" of disagreements within the Church. Then: "Whereas we expect President Trump to reverse policies of President Obama - just as Obama reversed the policies of President Bush - we expect the pope to preserve the decisions of his predecessors." (Emphasis mine) Clearly, this pope does not see his duty to do so; he does not see himself "conserving" the past; if anything, he has introduced "new teachings" that conflict, and are incompatible, with prior teachings of the Church. Lawler points to Amoris Laetitia as one such "new teaching," and in so doing, "violated the sacred trust that is given to Peter's successors." Again: is this outlook "revolutionary," or "radical?" Or both?
The turning point of Lawler's growing skepticism about the pope's agenda came on February 24, 2017, "when something snapped inside me." The proximate cause of this event centered on another of the "new teachings;" in this case, Pope Francis, "turned the Gospel reading upside down." What was involved here was the pope's reinterpretation of the Church's teaching, based on Divine Revelation, on the sanctity of the marital bond in favor of his own view on divorce and remarriage. Lawler now was convinced that the pope, "...was engaged in a deliberate effort to change what the Church teaches." The remainder of this book seeks to demonstrate the truth of that statement. Before continuing, however, one could ask: Who is Philip Lawler?
Lawler attended Harvard College, graduating in 1972 with honors in Government, and later did graduate work in political philosophy at the University of Chicago. As a journalist, he was the acting editor of Crisis magazine; later, he was the first layman to edit The Pilot, the Boston archdiocesan newspaper. In 1996, he founded Catholic World News: the first online Catholic news service. An author of five books, Lawler's, The Faithful Departed: The Collapse of Boston's Catholic Culture, is a book I highly recommend for its description of the baleful impact of Vatican II on formerly faithful Catholics.
Lawler begins his description of the Francis pontificate with a little known fact about the abdication of Pope Benedict, perhaps an omen of what was to follow: on February 11, 2013, the date Pope Benedict did something no pope had done in half a millennia - resign - lightning struck St. Peter's Basilica not once, but twice. Further, the pope's formal resignation was in Latin, so few among his audience had any idea what he was saying. At 85, and afflicted with serious arthritic problems, his closest friends and aides had noticed signs of the pope's inability to work after his morning duties. As to the serious crises that faced his pontificate, Lawler claims: "...Benedict had reached the conclusion that he, now an elderly man and by nature and training a scholar rather than an administrator, had neither the strength nor the talent that would be needed to resolve these internal crises." A younger prelate "with a firm administrative hand" was needed.
The "Vaticanists," the corps of journalists who cover the Vatican, began pondering in print that, if Pope John Paul II had been the first non-Italian pope in centuries, perhaps a "non-European pope" among the "papabile" would reach his level of success. An Italian, Cardinal Scola of Milan, appeared to be the early and probable heir apparent, but an address by a cardinal from Buenos Aires, Argentina, Jorge Bergoglio, was soon the talk of the conclave. The Argentine prelate, a Jesuit, called for the Church to "come out of herself and go to the peripheries," and that the failure to do so would lead to a Church that "...becomes self reverential and then gets sick." Whatever that meant, for no particulars were given.
It should be remembered that Cardinal Bergoglio was the "runner-up" to Cardinal Ratzinger at the conclave in 2005 but did not exhibit any outward signs of being "a pope in waiting." But waiting or not, Cardinal Bergoglio was ready to respond to the question about the name he would give to his pontificate: "Francis." came the prompt reply. And so, it was.
Lawler stresses that during the early days of his pontificate, Pope Francis I "captured the world's attention with his unconventional style." For example, he greeted enormous crowds speaking simply and without formality; he chose to live outside the papal apartments and moved permanently into St. Martha's House, the Vatican's guesthouse, and even placed his own phone calls! However, Lawler does mention one Vaticanist who claimed that journalists, "were leaving some potentially damaging stories unreported because they thought no one wanted to hear bad news about the pontiff." Among the more widely cited "non-reported" stories was the pope's relationship with the military junta during what is known as "the Dirty War" in Argentina. Neumayr reported that his fellow Jesuits had distanced themselves from Provincial Bergoglio because of his willingness to work with the military junta.
"There is many a slip twixt the cup and the lip," and, as in the case of the new pontificate, the promises of "reform," both explicit and implied, in the early stages of the Francis pontificate did not materialize, despite the claim they would. In fact, Lawler actually describes situations where reforms, such as the first attempts under Pope Benedict to bring the Vatican's financial house in order, were begun and then stalled and/or discarded by Francis. The priestly scandals have been the major source of both public and Vatican attention - until the new pontificate - but Vatican finances also were in dire need of reform.
Cardinal George Pell of Australia was appointed by Pope Benedict to oversee ways of reining in what was seen as the Vatican's "chaotic financial system," one in which Vatican "dicasteries" or Departments, "followed no standard accounting procedures." In 2015, internal resistance to Cardinal Pell's efforts became abundantly clear when, at a meeting of a worldwide consistory of cardinals, "heated arguments" erupted as Pell outlined his proposal to reform Vatican finances. The changes were accepted with very modest amendments and were approved by Pope Francis. But that breakthrough was short lived: the following year, the pope announced the audit of Vatican finances by Price Waterhouse Coopers, the first in history, had been suspended. No reasons were given, but "a compromise" soon followed allowing each dicastery to determine, "... how far the external auditors should delve into their records." Need I add that no "reforms" were instituted?
In 2017, Pope Francis allowed what can only be described as a return to the old ways: those who believed that Cardinal Pell "...was asserting too much control in his bid to ensure financial accountability," had won the day. If financial reform now disappeared into the Vatican mists, the other major "reform" that the Francis pontificate promised to address would not go gently into the night, for it goes to the heart of the Church's current crisis, and revolved around, "...the handling of sexual abuse complaints" against priests worldwide.
Many familiar with this on-going crisis may recall that Cardinal Ratzinger, when Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, had requested and been given responsibility by Pope John Paul II to deal with what Ratzinger called, "the filth" of clerical misconduct. What may not be known is that in the years 2011-12, as Pope Benedict XVI. he "laicized" nearly four hundred (no typo) priests.
The question of the neglect, or worse, by the hierarchy in dealing with sexual abuse cases is beyond cavil, but one cannot exclude papal fault in this area. Pope Francis promoted a prelate, Bishop Juan Barros, over the objections of Chilean Catholics who claimed that Barros had ignored their repeated complaints of the sexual predation of priests in his diocese. The pontiff called the Chilean protesters "stupid" for their actions, not a good way for a pontiff to make friends, a major objective of this pontificate. A committee under the aegis of Cardinal O'Malley of Boston, issued a report recognizing the seriousness of the situation, and offering suggestions to address the issue. That report was scrapped by Pope Francis, who later admitted he "was learning on the job," learning to accept a "zero tolerance" policy that had been in place for fifteen years.
Other examples abound: the McCarrick/Wuerl fiasco does not offer much hope the Vatican's "hands off" policy in dealing with clerical abuse will change. In a recent development, New York State has granted a one-year grace period to those who claim that they were sexually abused by priests in the past and allowed them to begin legal action against the involved diocese. As of this writing, more than 500 charges have been leveled against priests accused of sexually abusing both boys and young men in New York State, and this is just the beginning of the yearlong window.
It would be repetitive to continue to list the areas outlined in Lawler's book which describe the current pope's mindset, for much of it has been written about and discussed elsewhere. Yet, there are unfamiliar events as well that demonstrate papal manipulation that accompany that mindset which should be examined. One such event was the October 2014, Synod on the Family, including the "Mystery of the Purloined Volumes."
The then Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Gerhard Muller, had made a contribution to Remaining in the Truth of Christ, a compilation of essays restating Catholic teaching, in which he condemned Cardinal Kasper's proposal of offering communion for the remarried, which he had raised at the consistory. The publisher, Ignatius Press, sent copies of the book to the participating consistory cardinals through the Vatican's normally efficient postal system, but, mysteriously, they disappeared during their deliberations.
Another example of the apparent manipulation of the Synod took place when four separate paragraphs on pastoral care for homosexuals appeared in the Synod's "interim report." That raised other questions, for of the 250 addresses given by the clerics during the consistory, only one focused on homosexuality. Although none of this discussion was included in the minutes of the conference, this "creative editing" appeared to be the work of Archbishop Bruno Forte, a close ally of the pope, and the secretary of the Synod's drafting committee. Cardinal Sarah, who has been a stalwart in his defense of the traditional Church, denounced the manipulation as, "... an attempt to push the Church (to change) her doctrine." Another example of an attempt to codify "the new teaching," and apparently with the support of the new pontiff.
A concluding note about the Synod mentioned by Lawler should be very troublesome to Catholics: the bishops' final statement claimed the Synod fathers came together to "discern how the Church and society can renew their commitment to the family founded on marriage between a man and a woman." Lawler: "The Italicized words were omitted from the Vatican's official English translation." Neither Lawler nor I - and I imagine Neumayr - believe that was accidental.
Lawler's skewering of the current Society of Jesus should not surprise anyone. What may, is when Lawler quotes a Jesuit priest who claims: "The Church as we know it is dying. I hope and pray that the Society (of Jesus) will help to facilitate this death and resurrection." I am reminded of the apparent inability of the late Fr. Peter Milward, S.J. who, in our conversation at the Jesuit House in Tokyo, sadly commented: "I don't understand many of my younger Jesuit colleagues today." For many, that inability would extend to the Throne of Peter.
Philip Lawler has written a cogent and informative book about the decline of the Church under the current pope, including this pope's apparent indifference to the Church's past. "If a Catholic today is free to ignore the teachings of John Paul II, as Francis implies, then a Catholic tomorrow will be free to ignore the teaching of Francis....By that standard, the papacy of Francis has been a disaster for the Church."
This book is a gold mine of information and should be read by "Trads" who wish to know just how detrimental Francis has been in leading the Faithful. As I've written before, this book is highly recommended, except for those with high blood pressure.