Dear Jorge Mario Bergoglio,
It feels odd to address a public letter to a superior in this way, but be assured, I mean no disrespect in omitting “Holy Father” or “Pope Francis.” On the contrary, I address you by name because it reminds me of your humanity, awash as I am in a sea of bad news, my hope at times hanging by a thread. It reminds me that you were created in the image of God, adopted into His family by your baptism, redeemed by the death of His only begotten Son.
It reminds me that you were born in Argentina, in December of 1936, to Catholic parents who assuredly loved you very much. I think of you as a little baby, all small and new. I imagine your mother picking you up, holding you close, enjoying the tininess of your lower back beneath her sturdy fingers, the soft rhythm of your breathing. I imagine your father looking in on you asleep, little eyelashes on plump soft cheeks, whispering “Jorge” to you, pride and finality in his voice as he got used to the sound of your name. You were a miracle then. A new life. A hope.
It must seem an odd thing for me to think of you in this way, but there’s a reason for it. It’s hard for me ever to hope to understand you more conventionally, to figure out what makes you tick. You lived the equivalent of my entire lifetime in an era and place completely incomprehensible to me. There’s an ocean between me and you in so many ways…but especially in the faith we both share in name. There’s the Catholicism I came to believe in, the gift of faith given to me so inexplicably in 2018…and then there’s the Catholicism you believe in. Did you always believe in this same false gospel? Or did you start with only a drop of Modernist poison, fed to you for years and years until you forgot some childlike, genuine faith you once had? I don’t know, but I suspect it’s the latter. That makes me so deeply sad for you. You are not the cause of this, not really. You are only an outcome. But I know one thing: these Catholicisms we believe are not the same. They are an ocean apart. We are an ocean apart.
I am sure you can guess at the doctrinal disagreements we have. There are so many, and at the same time, there is really only one that matters to me now, at least in this letter. I believe that the Church cannot contradict herself. You believe she can. There is no middle space between these views. There is only one that can be right. I know that to argue with you is futile. So many have tried. So many bishops, so many priests, so many theologians, so many brilliant men. Even cardinals, who went so far as to present to you dubia. You ignored even that.
I am nobody, Jorge, but I think I’m everybody, too. At least, I’m a great many people — a great many simple Catholics, who go to Mass on Sundays, and pray the rosary, and try to love their neighbor. People who don’t want to be enemies of the pope, people who don’t want to rebel against anybody. We’re stranded, the tide is rising, and we are afraid. Can’t you see that? Can’t you feel even a little compassion for us?
Changing the Church would not break your faith. For you, Church teaching is a set of ideas like any other. I will assume the very best of you and say that perhaps you truly do think that Jesus Christ wants these changes you are working for. I’m sure that as a priest, as a confessor, you have heard the pain of real people in a way that I can scarcely conceive of. Maybe it gets to you; maybe it weighs you down in such a way that you feel compelled to act, to relieve the suffering you see. Maybe you want to make a way for these people, these people who are divorced and remarried, or who are struggling with same-sex attraction and don’t think they can stay chaste.
But the suffering that you want to heal will not go away, Jorge. It will only be replaced by something else, the only suffering that we should truly hate and fear as Christians. By changing the Church, you would cause suffering that is pointless. You would cause suffering that cannot be offered to God, suffering that would not stand at the foot of the cross — suffering that would only be useful to the devil. You see, for me, changing the Church is not about what I want, not about a set of ideas to argue on merit. Do I believe that you can really do it? No. I don’t think so. But if you could? If you somehow did? If some promise of the Church was fully and completely contradicted, continually, with no amendment, with no intervention from God to put it right?
I think I would lose my faith in God. I think many of us would. I pray, I beg of Jesus to save us from this horror, this possibility itself, but sometimes, I am afraid. I don’t think about this very much. Most of us don’t. We go about our lives, we pray, we go to Mass, we live. But at night sometimes, I have to face this thing. We all have to face this thing.
We all have to face this fear above all fears: that Catholicism may be wrong, and that you, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, may be the one to prove it. The possibility of accepting a life devoid of objective, knowable truth, of an unchanging moral code, of the beauty of our Holy Mother Church…I lived that life for a long time. I don’t know what would happen to me if I had to face it again. You may find that immature. Perhaps even some people reading this letter would refuse to admit ever fearing such things. I’m not sure I believe them. I think we’ve all felt this way in the dark.
Do you know what it would mean for us, us simple Catholics, to lose faith in God, Jorge? Do you understand? Do you understand that that suffering would be infinitely greater than the suffering of a woman who must live as sister and brother with her unlawful husband, or of a young man with same-sex attractions who must fall asleep alone, longing for a romantic connection that he cannot have? This is not to demean the suffering of these people. No. It is to remind you that their suffering ends. Their suffering, if they are faithful, will lead them to Heaven.
The suffering you are causing? The chaos, the lack of clarity…the souls who are losing Christ because of you? Their suffering will never end. Their suffering will lead them to Hell, where the worm dieth not, where they will face eternal separation from God. Despite those fears I have at night, I know that Catholicism, the real Catholicism, is true. Jesus Christ is Lord. I have to stay strong, and I have to help others to stay strong. I have to hold on to the Faith. It’s all that matters. If I have my faith, no other suffering can ever be pointless. Because of these facts, I have to oppose your actions. It is my moral duty.
But to grab hold of the hand of Christ, I have to reach across this vast ocean to you. Jorge, I have to love you. I don’t believe that I will ever be saved if I don’t. I don’t know why God is letting you hurt us like this. I don’t know why God is letting so many souls be lost. But I do know that this isn’t over. I know that hope remains, and I will do things that foster that hope. I will think of you in a human way, as more than just a bad pope who is destroying the Church. I will think of you as a child, as an infant Jorge Mario Bergoglio, because for some reason, to see you this way in my imagination makes me weep — gives me this melancholy, human feeling, where I remember that even my worst enemies began their life in the beauty of innocence. It allows me to pray for you in love, when love feels otherwise impossible.
I will pray for you that when you die, you will die as a child, in the arms of Jesus and Mary. That much I can do. I hope our prayers are enough.
Stefanie Nicholas is an unexpected Catholic convert from a (very lapsed) Greek Orthodox background. The history of the Crusades played a positive role in her faith journey, and she believes firmly that the Rosary will save the world. Readers can connect with her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @StefMNicholas.