Pope Francis: Shrewd Manipulator or Naive Puppet?
The Catholic Herald has, in my estimation, been very cautious in its approach to a number of issues which have a vaguely political whiff about them this year. One is the CES Scandal, which it has barely addressed, even given a very benign spin, despite the obvious contradictions, problems and ambiguities, as documented here, for example.
Another is with regard to the new book on Pope Francis The Dictator Pope. The Catholic Herald's Editorial Director is the journalist Damian Thompson. Thompson is rarely backward in coming forward and has written some incisive and condemning pieces on Pope Francis himself over the last year or four. However he has released this interesting and intelligent Spectator pod-cast wherein he discusses the new book The Dictator Pope with Ed Condon, Canon Lawyer, and Dan Hitchens, Deputy Editor of the Catholic Herald.
The podcast relates how the book, though clearly a hatchet job, is credible as it is intelligently written and repeats a lot of details reliably reported else where, drawing them altogether in one place. Thompson says the picture it paints of the Pope when he was in Argentina is quite terrifying; a man who pursues power irrespective of rights and wrongs. Ed Condon sees the kind of criticism in the book as typical of the kind of criticism often levelled at bishops who are figures of conciliation and unity. By the nature of their office, he says, they are going to accept some positions and reject others.
But this characterisation is specifically at odds with what we see from Pope Francis who clearly goes out of his way to be opaque. Hitchens says that even ordinary Catholics in the pews are nervous about the confusion being propagated by Pope Francis, but I was shocked that Ed Condon is not sure that the confusion is being caused by the Pope. He also thinks that the Pope may not be endorsing re-admission to the Sacraments for divorced and remarried Catholics (which is quite a legalistic, rather than theological approach). On this point, Thompson does an excellent job of stating that it is for the Pope to clear up this existential confusion by being straight forward about the re-affirmation of the consistent teaching of the Church. Hitchens himself acknowledges that he is confused and hesitant with regard to the degree he should be criticising the Holy Father which is very honest and I identify with that, although I am sure Condon is wrong to say that (even perhaps) the Pope does not intend to change Church teaching. I think it is very difficult to argue that position given the actual events that have taken place and the obvious will to support an orthodox interpretation. Were Pope Francis being marginalised and manipulated, he need only reach out to those who would come rushing to his defence. Condon characterises the Pope as insular, inaccessible and ignorant of people's perception of his papacy and its' impact. But this characterisation just does not hold up to scrutiny. Condon does make sense when he speaks about the ageing papal fans who have never read any of the documents of Vatican II. I want to be confident that the structures of the Church can withstand Pope Francis' attacks against doctrine but what I see is nothing happening.
I was a little surprised by the characterisation of Pope Francis as a naive victim of corrupt Vatican officials, rather than the shrewd manipulator he is described as in The Dictator Pope. Even the generally pro-Francis Crux posts today on the Pope's manipulation of the press:
"I would like more questions on the trip!” the pope decreed, essentially shutting down discussion of anything else. For 58 minutes, the pope stuck to reminiscing about his visit.Father Ray says something similar here.
The consensus of journalists on board was that it was a tactical move by Francis. The Italians said he didn’t want to answer questions about the troubled Vatican bank, while the Germans said he wanted to avoid being asked about the hasty dismissal of Cardinal Gerhard Mueller as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
I think he was irked by negative media coverage during the trip, which was dominated by criticism of Francis refusing to use the word “Rohingya” in public meetings in Myanmar, referring to the Muslim minority community currently oppressed by Myanmar’s leadership. In effect, it was his way of getting us back.
Whatever the reason, the pope once again demonstrated his masterful skill at playing the press."
I have to agree with one commentator on Fr. Ray's blog who says:
"Is Ed Condon a member of Opus Dei or Regnum Christi? [The relevance here is that these organisations decry criticism of the hierarchy] Whatever, he speaks a load of papolatrous guff.
I have had people give me the same excuse to try to convince me that Honorius wasn't really a heretic: "He was just being manipulated, he didn't really believe or teach Monothelitism himself." Strangely they don't have an answer when I tell them that Pope St Leo II anathematized his ass simply because he failed to teach the pure orthodox Catholic Faith when it had come under assault from heretics. Failing to teach the truth is just as evil as deliberately teaching error. Both are a failure of faith and equally damaging to souls.
The guy is straining at gnats in order to swallow a camel. There is ample evidence from Argentina that the former Archbishop of B.A. was just as manipulative and untrustworthy as he is now in the See of Peter. The fact that he has abused his power, however, isn't really a big deal - there must have been loads of Popes who were very political and played dirty. That is in the nature of human beings to behave that way - we have never believed in the impeccability of popes. A pope's personal morality or sinfulness is not necessarily an impediment to the effective exercise of his office.
What is really at issue is the fact that Francis has chosen to use or abuse his power in order to undermine the Faith. Anybody who followed the process which led up to Amoris Laetitia, from the first audience where he rehabilitated Kasper to the manipulated, pre-determined synods, must be aware that he was fully in charge of this blasphemy right from the start. Even participants in the Synod hall have spoken about how obvious it was who was really pulling Baldisseri's strings. Forte has been quite open about the pre-determined plan the Pope had discussed with him to direct the synod towards heresy. It was obvious from Francis' closing speeches at the Synods that he was furious with those who had tried to block his plans.
No, Francis knew and knows what he is doing. He might not give a damn about clearing up financial corruption and he might be quite happy to let the chips lie as they fall in that respect, but the corruption of the Church's doctrine and praxis has been part of his plan from the beginning."