At the beginning of 2018, Steve Skojec predicted that this year would mark “the beginning of the end” of Pope Francis’ power. It is now becoming increasingly clear that this pontificate might be facing several distinct points of fracture. Francis’ international standing is being undermined. There are at least five areas where the pope has become vulnerable: the Cardinal Marx scandal; the Bishop Barros abuse case; the Chinese crisis; the controversy concerning the upcoming World Meeting of Families in Ireland; and the growing resistance to Amoris Laetitia.
Cardinal Marx and Homosexual Unions
Let us first consider Cardinal Reinhard Marx’ welcoming comments concerning the idea to bless homosexual couples in the Catholic Church. While inviting such steps only for individual parishes, he made it clear that for him, homosexual acts are not any more a sin. This new “Marxist move” has caused much indignation among faithful Catholics in Germany, among them Mathias von Gersdorff.
But Dr. Markus Büning – Catholic theologian and book author – has also lost his patience after the recent German push on the homosexual front. (Büning had, not long ago, and after an initial support of the four cardinals’ dubia, made a turn and signed the recent Pro-Pope Francis initiative.) Now, Büning has called upon Pope Francis to rectify the chaos caused by Marx. He is astonished that “one of the highest-ranking collaborators in the Church’s senate – Munich’s Archbishop, Cardinal Marx – can proclaim in front of the world a grave moral heresy” while merely proposing such a “liturgical affirmation” on the local level. Büning comments:
It is rather funny that this kind of Catholic “case-by-case logic” would not also apply to those Catholics who now, after these scandalous demands of a bishop, seriously, for sure, consider leaving the Church of the “Church Tax” [“Kirchensteuer”-Kirche]
While he does not propose to exit the Catholic Church, Büning makes it clear that this contradiction shows the “mercilessness of these shepherds.” The German theologian then proceeds to call out to Pope Francis to correct Cardinal Marx:
In my view, it is now clearly up to him who holds the highest teaching office in the Universal Church – the pope. If he is silent with regard to such a demand – supposing that he knows of this bold demand of the C8 [sic] – Cardinal Marx [member of the pope’s council of cardinals] – one necessarily has to conclude that he approves of it. Then also the pope has a problem! […] Did the pope do it [approve of this Marxian approach], he would not fulfill his office and mission to preserve the unity of the Universal Church in questions of Faith and Morals in a credible manner.
The Bishop Barros Scandal
Some similar tones of concern come to us from Guido Horst – Rome Correspondent of the German Catholic newspaper Die Tagespost – who is also known for his usually conciliatory attitude toward Pope Francis. In the wake of the papal trip to Chile, Horst entitled an article with the words: “The Papacy at a Turning Point?” In it, he wrote about the papal visit to Chile and pointed out how this visit seems to have become a pivotal moment for Francis, inasmuch as he has earned much criticism for his demeaning remarks about those victims of sexual abuse who criticized him for protecting Bishop Juan Barros, accused of actively witnessing said abuse and doing nothing about it. Francis, says Horst, appointed Barros, “even though the Vatican Congregation for the Clergy, as well as the Chilean Nuncio, both had already come to the conclusion to ask Barros to resign.” The rumors against Barros as a man who covered up the misdeeds of his spiritual leader, Father Fernando Karadima, never stopped. According to Horst, Barros himself even offered his resignation, but the pope would not accept it.
After the papal remarks in the airplane, where Francis demeaned the victims of abuse, Cardinal Seán O’Malley – the pope’s own top adviser on clergy sexual abuse – criticized the remarks, calling them “a source of great pain for survivors of sexual abuse by clergy.” As Horst comments:
For the first time, it happened that one of the closest collaborators of the pope distanced himself from Francis; and that the pope himself backed off. Many had done the same earlier – the cardinals Joachim Meisner, Carlo Caffarra, Raymond Leo Burke, Walter Brandmüller, Robert Sarah, Gerhard Müller, or Janis Pujats of Riga. Francis ignored them all, but not the Capuchin O’Malley.
In Horst’s eyes, the pope seemed to have “lost the favor of the media and of the public” in Chile.
These critical words of Horst have been followed now by a much more stunning report from the secular press, namely that, already in 2015, Pope Francis had – against his own claims – received a piercing description of Barros’ involvement in the sexual abuse cases.
The American Catholic journalist Michael Brendan Dougherty writes today at the National Review that no matter how one looks at the way the letter was handled, it signals a serious problem in papal leadership. And further: “The leaks about the hand-delivery of this letter to the pontiff may be evidence itself that senior churchmen are losing confidence in his pontificate. The barque of Peter sails into choppy waters.”
The China-Vatican Compromise
Additionally, Pope Francis is coming more and more under pressure for giving a friendly hand to the Communist-appointed bishops in China, and then even asking some faithful and suffering true bishops to resign. La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana‘s Riccardo Cascioli from Italy thus entitled one of his recent articles: “The Vatican’s ‘Long March’ Towards Surrender to China.” Scholar Steven Mosher, a Catholic author and expert on Chinese Communism, just effectively repeated this sentiment in an interview with EWTN’s Raymond Arroyo, saying that the Vatican’s negotiations with China are nothing more than “simply negotiating the surrender of the underground Church” to the false church created by the Communists.
Ireland and LGBT
On top of all of these troubling developments, the pope is now being pushed into making a decision about where he stands with regard to the LGBT issue. At the beginning of February, the story broke that Mary McAleese, the former President of Ireland, had been barred by Cardinal Kevin Farrell – the head of the Dicastery for the Laity, Family, and Life – from speaking at a conference on women that was to take place on Vatican grounds. This act on the part of Cardinal Farrell has now provoked the indignation of the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, who claims not to have been consulted prior to this decision. McAleese is a prominent promoter of homosexual “marriage” and other progressivist agendas such as the ordination of women. Archbishop Martin himself is now concerned that his message of “inclusion” for the upcoming August 2018 World Meeting of Families – see our story on the homosexual imagery and themes in the program for this event here – would be negatively affected by this recent act of “exclusion” on the part of the Vatican. He insisted that this event – which Pope Francis has also been expected to attend – “will be an inclusive event, open to all families and family members.”
In Ireland itself, pro-LGBT groups are so indignant about the recent decision by Cardinal Farrell that they now even advocate a removal of support for the World Meeting of Families and Pope Francis’ planned upcoming visit to Ireland.
This seems to put Pope Francis at odds with both Ireland as a state, as well as with Archbishop Martin as the organizer of the upcoming Catholic event. On the other side, if he were to make a gesture toward them, he would have to make a signal of approving of the LGBT agenda. Only time will show how Pope Francis will resolve this conflict, a conflict where he will have to show where he truly stands in this matter.
The Ongoing Resistance to Amoris Laetitia
Last but not least: Amoris Laetitia does not stop causing serious disruptions in the Catholic Church, so much so that the number increases of those bishops who now have publicly come out to support the initiative of Bishop Athanasius Schneider – and two of his fellow bishops from Kazakhstan – to reject the idea of giving Holy Communion to adulterers. Just yesterday, Bishop emeritus Elmar Fischer, of Austria, added his name to the list of signatories; the other signatories are Bishop emeritus Andreas Laun (Austria), Auxiliary Bishop Marian Eleganti (Switzerland), Cardinal Janis Pujats (Latvia), the former Apostolic Nuntio Carlo Maria Viganò (Italy), Archbishop Luigi Negri (Italy), Bishop emeritus René Gracida (U.S.). Thus, the number of signatories has now increased to ten, with possibly more to come, according to our sources.
It appears that these potential cracks in the pontificate of Francis could lead to a breaking point; one that could potentially stop — or at least weaken — the papal agenda of adapting the Church to the modern world in such a way that the fullness of the Catholic Faith is no longer recognizable. If so, it might bring needed relief to the many souls at stake.
This post has been updated.
Dr. Maike Hickson, born and raised in Germany, studied History and French Literature at the University of Hannover and lived for several years in Switzerland where she wrote her doctoral dissertation. She is married to Dr. Robert Hickson, and they have been blessed with two beautiful children. She is a happy housewife who likes to write articles when time permits.
Her articles have appeared in American and European journals such as Catholicism.org, LifeSiteNews, The Wanderer, Culture Wars, Catholic Family News, Christian Order, Apropos, and Zeit-Fragen.