An Ecclesiastical Pompeii

We were caught up and lost in all of our vices
In your pose as the dust settled around us

And the walls kept tumbling down
In the city that we love
Grey clouds roll over the hills
Bringing darkness from above

The pop song “Pompeii,” by the band Bastille, is an upbeat earworm that references one of the most famous tragedies of human history: the destruction of the ancient city of Pompeii by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in the first century A.D. The refrain points to the human instinct to cling to denial, pretending that the events around us are not, in fact, actually happening:

But if you close your eyes
Does it almost feel like
Nothing changed at all?
And if you close your eyes
Does it almost feel like
You’ve been here before?

There is a quiet moment near the end of the song, a break from the rousing chorus, where the singer asks:

Oh where do we begin?
The rubble or our sins?
Oh where do we begin?
The rubble or our sins?

It’s an unusual theme for the Top 40 charts, and coincidentally, the song debuted in early 2013, rising to prominence at roughly the same time Jorge Bergoglio was elected to the papacy. At least subconsciously, I think it has been on repeat in the back of my head all this time like an eerily appropriate soundtrack for “Francischurch,” a catchy little ditty about havoc and destruction playing beneath the endless stream of words, images, and videos depicting the 2,000-year-old Church we love crumbling to pieces in real time.

The walls have indeed been tumbling down.

Papal blasphemies, an official policy of religious indifferentism, permission for Communion for adulterers on the books, various pushes toward intercommunion, a reversal of the infallible teaching on the death penalty in the catechism, the near erasure of the definition of mortal sin, multiple denials of the existence of Hell (and thus any impetus to live virtuously), the reduction of Gospel miracles to mere naturalistic human events, the endless promotion of temporal concerns over the spiritual, papal permission for contraception, protection of the most corrupt in the Church at the expense of the weak and the vulnerable, a hatred from on high for the faithful and their deep-rooted concerns, and repeated attacks on the very fabric of the moral law itself.

It is telling that despite having written on this topic for six years, I know that the litany in the preceding paragraph is undoubtedly missing a number of key issues that should be listed along with the rest. The sheer number of errors and attacks on the Faith from this pope and his subordinates is so high that it’s impossible to remember them all, let alone be remotely comprehensive in less than a book-length exposition.

And now our pope informs us that he is “honored that the Americans attack me.”

The context of the statement was as a response to his receipt of the French-language book How America Wants to Change the Pope. The book, America Magazine tells us, is about “how a wealthy and often traditionalist sector of the American Catholic church — both clerical and lay — attacks Pope Francis”.

To that, I say the following: Dear Francis, we could never attack you as you have attacked the Faith. It is impossible for every traditionalist in America — or the whole world — all working together, to cause as much damage as you have. We criticize you because you wound the Church, we pray for your conversion and fidelity, yet you mock our concern by calling it an attack you are honored to bear.

You have no shame. 

And speaking of shamelessness, the initial reports from the battlefield that will be the Amazon Synod are already beginning to come in, and they are as bad as anyone could have expected. LifeSiteNews reported this week that “[r]adical liberation theologians” are pushing for an “overthrow of Catholic doctrine” at the synod.

Citing an independent document put together by a group of priests and theologians “associated with Latin American ‘liberation theology’ who are involved in the preparation” for the Amazon synod, they cite a number of key areas of attack, including:

  • Advancing the notion that there is “no one true religion and that non-Christian religions are capable of bringing ‘salvation’ to people”
  • Redefining the Eucharist “as a symbolic act of the community”
  • Undermining the nature and history of the priesthood with an accompanying push for women’s ordination
  • Advancing “feminist ecological theology”
  • A rejection of the teaching that all of creation should be under the dominion of man (claiming injustice over disparity between non-human species and man)
  • Affirmation of the value of pagan religions
  • A refusal to refer to God as Father, calling Him instead “Father and Mother”

Read the whole thing for much more detail, but I recommend that you don’t keep anything breakable within reach of your throwing hand.

Cardinals Burke and Brandmüller, meanwhile — the only surviving dubia cardinals (who have still never been received in audience by the pope to address their concerns) — have written to their fellow cardinals to express their disdain over the instrumentum laboris (working document) for the upcoming synod, according to the Catholic News Agency (CNA):

“Some points of the synod’s Instrumentum laboris seem not only in dissonance with respect to the authentic teaching of the Church, but even contrary to it,” Cardinal Walter Brandmüller wrote to fellow cardinals in an Aug. 28 letter obtained by CNA.

“The nebulous formulations of the Instrumentum, as well as the proposed creation of new ecclesial ministries for women and, especially, the proposed priestly ordination of the so-called viri probati arouse strong suspicion that even priestly celibacy will be called into question,” the cardinal wrote.

Brandmüller also expressed concerns about the involvement of clerics like Cardinal Claudio Hummes and Bishops Erwin Kräutler and Franz-Josef Overbeck, all of whom fall in the “revolutionary” camp. On Hummes, who serves as president of the synod, Brandmüller expressed concern that he will “exercise a grave influence in a negative sense.”

The German cardinal expressed his hope that those fellow cardinals in receipt of his letter would begin thinking about how they might address “any heretical statements or decisions of the synod.” He also asked the recipients to “correct, according to the teachings of the Church, certain positions expressed in the Instrumentum laboris of the pan-Amazonian synod.”

For his part, Cardinal Burke wrote as well to his brother cardinals, expressing that he “shares completely the deep concerns of Cardinal Brandmüller on the upcoming Synod on the Amazon, based upon its Instrumentum laboris.”

The instrumentum laboris, Burke continued, “contradicts the constant teaching of the Church on the relationship between the created world and God, the uncreated Creator, and man, created in the image and likeness of God to cooperate with him as guardian of the created world.”

Burke warned that the working document contains “disturbing propositions” that “portend an apostasy from the Catholic faith.”

Again, read the whole thing for more of the letters from the two cardinals, and again, I suggest keeping your coffee mug out of reach as you do.

Think, for a moment, about the severity of these warnings. Two cardinals of the Catholic Church are asking their fellows to prepare a response to inevitable heresy in a synod led by a pope, and are warning about direct indications of apostasy from this official event. And then gauge your reaction: are you even a little surprised? Are you still angry? Or are you just bitterly cynical, expecting the unthinkable to happen, because these days, it invariably does?

The conclusion, at this point, is inescapable: the Catholic Church as we knew it no longer exists. Like a protracted version of that fateful day in Pompeii, we have spent the last six years watching the sky turn dark, and the fire and brimstone — metaphorically speaking — rain down. (Our allegorical Vesuvius was belching out lava and smoke as it worked up to its most destructive explosion for a century or more, but the city-burying eruption is happening now.)

It should be noted that not everyone perished in the Pompeii disaster. Some survived. And our faith teaches us that the Church, too, will survive. But she will not be as she was before. Not in a temporal sense. The Church Militant is being driven out into the desert, where God will, by means of His providence alone, keep it alive, moving it towards the promised land of the New Jerusalem.

But with the most recent round of college of cardinals–stacking still fresh in our minds, we cannot expect things to get better soon. We have no earthly reason to think the next conclave will elect a better pope. We are most likely in this for the long haul, and many of us may not live to see the other side of this crisis.

We have to mentally prepare ourselves for this. We have to spiritually prepare ourselves for this. It isn’t going to be easy.

As we continue to watch the clouds roll in, it’s also time to dig into our (metaphorical) catacombs, hunker down, and pray. And let’s hope we don’t have to build real catacombs any time soon.

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