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Pope Francis: How much lower can we sink?

Above: Jorge Bergoglio as Cardinal. 

Text of a talk given to the Latin Mass Society in London on November 24th, 2023. Mr. Sire’s audio of this talk can be heard here.

When Joseph Shaw proposed this talk to me in early September, I suggested the title “Pope Francis: how much lower can we sink?”, but the fact is that since then we have been overtaken by events. Over the past eleven years we have all seen Pope Francis’s pontificate in a trajectory of accelerating descent into more and more overt betrayal of Catholic doctrine, but I must say I did not foresee the Gadarene rush we have seen just within the last three months. If we want to assess the very grave events that are happening around us, we need to try and understand the man we now have sitting on the throne of Peter. So before I comment on recent developments I would like to add some details to the picture of Pope Francis which I gave in my book The Dictator Pope, which was first published six years ago.

To give you some background on this book, I should explain that I arrived to work in Rome in April 2013, less than a month after the election of Pope Francis, and I lived there for the next four years. I was working for the Order of Malta, an organisation which has close links to the Holy See, and I quickly began to hear the reports that were privately coming out of the Vatican. They showed a very different Francis from the genial, liberal figure, who was being presented by the world’s media. Insiders were saying that, as soon as the publicity cameras were off him, Francis became a different figure: arrogant, dismissive of people, given to foul language, and notorious for furious outbursts of temper which were known even to the Vatican chauffeurs. Over the next couple of years I continued to hear inside information, for example from the late Cardinal Pell about the internal politics involved in the two Synods on the Family in 2014 and 2015. Let us bear in mind that in his first years Pope Francis had barely shown his hand and that people assumed he was the liberal reformer that the Church supposedly needed. Early in 2016 I wrote an article for Angelico Press titled “Pope Francis: Where is the reformer behind the media idol?” I was beginning to think that somebody needed to write a book disclosing the gulf between the public image of Pope Francis and the reality as seen within the Vatican; but at that stage I did not think that I would be the one to write it.

Besides the information gulf I have described, there was another one stemming from the language barrier. There was in fact a great deal of information which had been available for years about Jorge Bergoglio and his career in Argentina, but it simply had not come through to the rest of the world because it had not been translated into English. Since I am half-Spanish, this was another of the factors that pointed to my shouldering the task that was needed. When I decided to start work on the book, the first thing I did was to make a trip to Argentina, which I did in March 2017, to speak to people who could tell me about Bergoglio’s past record. This was the information that had been sadly lacking to the cardinals when they elected Bergoglio in 2013. In particular, there was a very revealing book which had been written shortly after the papal election, but which had been quickly stamped on, and had since become almost unavailable. The title was El Verdadero Francisco (The Real Francis), by Omar Bello. The author was a public-relations executive who had known Bergoglio personally over the past eight years, having worked for him in a television channel run by the archdiocese of Buenos Aires. As a professional in the field of public relations, Bello was quick to recognise in Bergoglio a master in self-promotion. He also described a man who was accomplished in the covert exercise of power and the manipulation of people.

For example, Bello tells in his book two stories which were already well known in Buenos Aires. One was the way in which Bergoglio took a dislike to a member of the archiepiscopal staff, Mr Felix Botazzi, and decided to sack him without showing his hand. The aggrieved ex-employee then sought an interview with Bergoglio, who affected ignorance. “I knew nothing about it, my son. What did they sack you for? Who did it?” Mr Botazzi did not get his job back, but the archbishop presented him with a new car, and he went away convinced that Bergoglio was a saint, dominated by a circle of malicious subordinates. The other story that Bello repeats is of a Buenos Aires priest on the diocesan staff who sought psychiatric help, exhausted by the merry dance that he and his colleagues were being led by their archbishop. After listening to his woes, the psychiatrist said to him: “I can’t treat you. To solve your problems I would need to treat your archbishop.”

These and other revelations were made shortly after Bergoglio had been elected pope, but in fact there had been revealing reports appearing in the Spanish-language media even before that. For example, in 2011 the Spanish journalist Francisco de la Cigoňa published an article describing how Bergoglio was building himself a network of power in the South American hierarchies through followers he had planted in various departments in the Vatican. De la Cigoňa summed up his report:

That is how Bergoglio proceeds to generate a network of lies, intrigue, espionage, mistrust and, more effective than anything, fear. Bergoglio is a person who above all knows how to generate fear. However much he may work carefully to impress everyone with the appearance of a plaster saint, austere and mortified, he is a man with a mentality of power.

We should note that this was written well over a year before Bergoglio was elected pope, before anyone had reason to suspect that he might be more widely dangerous.

When I started my book, I set myself the objective of transmitting Spanish-language reporting of this sort to the English-speaking world, but there was another piece of evidence whose non-emergence had not been due to the language barrier. While I was living in Rome I began to hear from journalists of a document called the Kolvenbach Report, which several of them had been trying to track down without success. It was the report that Fr Kolvenbach, the General of the Jesuits, had written back in 1991, when it had been proposed to make Fr Bergoglio an auxiliary bishop in Buenos Aires, and it was rumoured to be distinctly unfavourable. A copy of the report had been kept in the archive of the Jesuit General Curia in Rome, but it swiftly disappeared as soon as Bergoglio was elected pope. In the course of my research I discovered that at least one copy of the report existed in private hands, but its owner could not bring himself to share it with me for the purpose of publication. The nearest I was able to get to it was through a priest who had read it before it disappeared from the Jesuit archive, and he gave me the gist of it as follows: Fr Kolvenbach accused Bergoglio of lack of psychological balance, deviousness, disobedience cloaked under a mask of humility, and habitual use of vulgar language. He also pointed out, with a view to his suitability as a bishop, that Bergoglio had shown himself a divisive figure while Provincial of the Jesuits in Argentina. After eleven years of the Francis papacy we can fairly say that Fr Kolvenbach had got him completely right.

Another key to Bergoglio’s mode of acting is the political background of Argentina, which is so alien to the Anglo-Saxon understanding. One of the first things I heard about Bergoglio when I went to Rome was from an Argentinian priest who said: “What you’ve got to understand about him is that he’s a pure politician.” At the time, I did not grasp the bearing of this, but you need to add that Francis’s politics are modelled by the great figure in Argentina in the twentieth century, Juan Perón, who was dictator of the country from 1946 to 1955, the years in which Bergoglio was growing up. Perón dazzled a whole generation of Argentinians with his unscrupulous, opportunistic style, and his legacy has continued to dominate the country’s political life ever since. Bergoglio was more than a generic disciple of the great man. When he was novice-master of the Argentinian Jesuits in the early seventies, he was actively assisting a party called the Iron Guard who were working, successfully, to bring back Perón from exile for his final months in office as President until his death in 1974. By ordinary standards this was an unusual way for the novice-master of a religious order to spend his spare time, but it illustrates the comment that was made to me by one Argentinian who had been a pupil of the young Bergoglio when he taught at a Jesuit school in the sixties. On the strength of a lifetime’s personal knowledge, he described Bergoglio to me as “un enfermo del poder” – a man for whom power is a mania, or a sickness.

So, on the basis of reports like these I proceeded to write my book, and I included in it a chapter on Bergoglio’s career before his election. In it, my purpose was to provide something of a character study which had been sadly lacking to the cardinals when they elected him pope in 2013. Since publication however I have discovered a great deal of new information which shows that in fact things were far, far worse than I imagined.

The first revelation has been about the financial malpractice involved in Bergoglio’s government of the archdiocese of Buenos Aires. I mentioned earlier the article by Francisco de la Cigoňa about the network of power that Cardinal Bergoglio built up in the Vatican, but we need to add that that network was made possible by the deployment of large sums of money. The background to this was the near-bankruptcy that had been incurred by the Holy See in the eighties and nineties by the criminal activities of its financial managers, Archbishop Paul Marcinkus and his less well known but equally corrupt successor Donato de Bonis. In these conditions, the ability to transfer large sums to the Vatican coffers would give a churchman enormous influence. Cardinal Bergoglio did this through his control of the Catholic University of Argentina, which had a rich endowment of 200 million dollars. Specifically, between 2005 and 2011 some 40 million dollars were transferred from the University of Argentina to the Vatican, in a transaction which was supposed to be a deposit, but which the Vatican Bank promptly proceeded to treat as a donation. Not until a year or two ago has this misappropriation begun to be rectified.

This however is only the tip of the iceberg of huge financial corruption in the archdiocese of Buenos Aires which has been kept secret, although it was known to the Vatican from an early date. In 2009, eleven years into Cardinal Bergoglio’s rule as archbishop, Pope Benedict ordered a secret visitation of the archdiocese by a Monsignor who was sent there ostensibly as a diplomatic member of the papal nunciature, and he uncovered grave irregularities including money-laundering and Mafia links. To be fair, these malpractices dated from before Bergoglio’s appointment as archbishop in 1998, but they were remaining unreformed owing to Bergoglio’s habitual policy of cover-up and protection of the guilty. It is said that the information that the papal investigator gained during his visit has given him a hold over the Pope and enabled him to pursue a well-protected Vatican career despite the enmity of powerful figures.

The archdiocese that Cardinal Bergoglio headed was thus steeped in financial wrongdoing. To give you some history of this, I will go back to Bergoglio’s first appointment as auxiliary bishop of Buenos Aires in 1991. As I mentioned, he earned this position at the request of the then Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal Quarracino, but the man who was most influential in pressing for it was Monsignor Roberto Toledo, a member of the archiepiscopal staff. Why Monsignor Toledo was such an advocate of Bergoglio’s I am unable to say, but he emerges as the central figure in the next major scandal to arise in the archdiocese. This relates to a large pension fund of the Argentinian military, which in 1997 was asked to make a loan to the archdiocese of ten million dollars. By that time Cardinal Quarracino was ailing and Bishop Bergoglio had already been appointed his suffragan with right of succession. At the meeting held to finalise the loan, Cardinal Quarracino was too ill to attend, but he was represented by Monsignor Toledo. When the time came to sign the contract, Monsignor Toledo left the room, ostensibly to obtain Cardinal Quarracino’s signature, and he returned presently with a signature which, as later transpired, had in fact been forged by himself. Soon afterwards the military pension fund found itself in difficulties, and it made efforts to recover its loan to the archdiocese of Buenos Aires, whereupon Cardinal Quarracino denied that he had ever signed the contract.

Cardinal Quarracino soon afterwards died, and Bergoglio succeeded him as Archbishop of Buenos Aires. What stands out is his kid-glove handling of Monsignor Toledo when the fraud was discovered. He was first sent back to his home town without any sanctions. Finally, eight years later, in 2005, he was tried for fraud, but no sentence was ever passed. It should be added that Monsignor Toledo was well known to be a homosexual and to have a male lover, a gym instructor, who had played a go-between’s role in the financial relations I have described. The most macabre detail in this case emerged in 2017, when Monsignor Toledo, who had been working for the past eighteen years as a parish priest without any sort of ecclesiastical sanction, was accused of murdering a long-time friend of his and forging his will to obtain an inheritance of millions.

Monsignor Toledo is an example of a prelate who was already in place when Bergoglio arrived as auxiliary bishop, but it is equally revealing to look at those whom he promoted once he became archbishop. The first to notice is Juan Carlos Maccarone, whom Bergoglio made an auxiliary bishop in 1999. In 2005 Maccarone was dismissed from the episcopate by Pope Benedict after he was filmed having sexual relations with a homosexual prostitute in the sacristy of his cathedral. Yet Cardinal Bergoglio publicly defended him, asserting that the filming was a set-up to bring the bishop down because of his left-wing political commitment. Another protégé was Joaquín Sucunza, whom Bergoglio consecrated auxiliary bishop in 2000, although he had by then been cited in a divorce case as the lover of a married woman. Bishop Sucunza continued as auxiliary, and was even appointed by Pope Francis as temporary administrator of the archdiocese in 2013 after his own elevation to the papacy.

These cases display a pattern of moral cynicism and clerical cronyism which Bergoglio has shown behind the scenes, while he presented the public image of a reformer. The most blatant examples of it relate to his record as a protector of clerical sex abusers. One case is that of the Buenos Aires priest Rubén Pardo, who was reported for sexually abusing a fifteen-year-old boy. The mother of the boy had great difficulty in getting the archdiocese to admit the case; she complained that Cardinal Bergoglio was protecting the guilty priest, that he gave him lodging in a diocesan residence, and that when she tried to speak to the Cardinal at the archiepiscopal residence he had her ejected by the security staff. The priest was finally convicted by the civil courts and shortly afterwards died of Aids, and a Buenos Aires court obliged the Catholic Church to pay the family compensation for what they had suffered. The mother’s opinion of Bergoglio’s claim to be cracking down on such crimes was: “Bergoglio’s commitment is just talk.”

Another well known case was that of Father Julio Grassi, who had been running children’s homes which he used to exploit young boys’ ambitions to escape from poverty through the medium of professional football. In 2009 Fr Grassi was convicted of sexually abusing a teenage boy,, but while the case was in progress the Argentinian bishops’ conference, headed by Cardinal Bergoglio, went to great expense to commission a document of 2,600 pages to assert his innocence. The report was condemned by the Argentinian court as a gross attempt to interfere with justice and to prejudice the judicial hearing. Meanwhile, Fr Grassi himself testified that throughout the hearings he had had the personal support of Cardinal Bergoglio himself. As we know, there are many bishops in the world whose careers have been ended by allegations less serious than this, yet Bergoglio has managed to ride them out untouched. Moreover, as Pope he has shown in many instances that he has no scruples in protecting clerical sexual offenders, regardless of the supposed zero-tolerance policy he professes to enforce.

I think it is worth offering a general or generic explanation of this strange laxity, which at bottom is rooted in the macho sexual culture of Latin America. That is nowhere more evident than in Argentina, where it has been traditionally said that a “poof” is defined as a man who only sleeps with his own wife. This culture contaminates the clergy themselves. Very often among these Latin Americans, and indeed among the Italians and others, there is an inclination to treat the less tolerant view of sexual wrongdoing as a manifestation of Anglo-Saxon puritanism. With this attitude, the sexual corruption that has been rampant in the Church and the Vatican has little hope of being reformed, and in fact has grown far worse under the present Pope.

The facts I have just mentioned have been published in various articles, or in some cases discovered by me, in the last five or six years, and my comment on them is as follows: when I wrote The Dictator Pope the state of my information led me to give a picture of Bergoglio as a man with certain defects of character which ought to have been known to the cardinals when they elected him in 2013; but in fact the reality is far worse. What we find existed in 2013 was a situation of horrific clerical corruption in the Argentinian Church, and we see Bergoglio sitting squarely in the centre of it. Now, I am not accusing him of being himself financially or sexually corrupt like the clerics he protected. I hark back to the journalist De la Cigoňa’s description of him as “working carefully to impress everyone with the appearance of a plaster saint.” One has to admit that Bergoglio has always been personally austere, indeed ostentatiously so, but he has combined this with a policy of surrounding himself with morally weak and corrupt persons, precisely so that he could control them and build up his own power through them, and this policy he has continued throughout his pontificate.

We need to look at the situation that existed at the Conclave of 2013, after the surprise abdication of Pope Benedict XVI. It was generally recognised that the Church was facing a crisis, and Cardinal Bergoglio was explicitly elected to make reforms particularly in three areas: firstly the world-wide scandal of clerical sexual abuse which had gravely undermined the Church’s moral authority; secondly the morass of the Vatican finances; and thirdly the moral and political corruption within the Roman Curia, of which Benedict XVI had received crushing evidence in a report presented in December 2012. In all three of these areas Pope Francis’s pontificate, far from delivering reform, has made things infinitely worse. In case after case, we have seen clerical sex offenders protected with an impudence that eclipses anything in the past. In the area of the Vatican finances it looked at first as if Pope Francis was espousing genuine reform. He appointed Cardinal Pell with wide powers to reform the finances of the various Vatican departments, but within two years it became clear that this was an empty promise. The audit of the Vatican departments that Pell had launched was cancelled, and it was cancelled by two of the men whom Francis himself had put in power: Cardinal Parolin, as Secretary of State, and Cardinal Becciu, his Deputy at the time. Cardinal Becciu, after four years of increasing power, lost the favour of Pope Francis in 2020, was effectively stripped of his cardinalate, and is at present on trial for financial crimes. Back in 2017, Parolin and Becciu between them ordered a stoppage of Cardinal Pell’s financial reform, in a series of incidents which illustrate the regime of lawless dictatorship which now prevails in the Vatican. One of them was the treatment of the layman Libero Milone, who had been appointed General Auditor of the Vatican two years earlier to carry out the financial reform. In 2017 he was sacked in circumstances suggestive of a fascist state, with the Vatican police breaking into his offices and confiscating his computers, while he was given an ultimatum there and then to resign or be arrested. As part of the explanation for this treatment Cardinal Becciu complained that Mr Milone had been spying on his superiors, in other words that he was doing the job he had been appointed to do.

The most notorious aspect of this clamp-down was the way Cardinal Pell was got rid of. In 2017 he had to return to Australia to face historic charges of sexual abuse, for which he was sentenced to prison, until his conviction was quashed on appeal three years later. By that time it was too late for him to resume his post at the Vatican. There is every reason to believe that the Australian prosecution was instigated and assisted by figures in the Vatican as a means of stopping his reform, and Cardinal Becciu has been specifically named as the agent of this policy.

When we turn to the reform of the Curia as a whole, the experience of the past eleven years has been just as disastrous as the financial story. And the reason is that Pope Francis’s interest is not in reforming the Curia but in controlling it. As I mentioned before, he has always exercised his control by appointing morally weak and compromised characters to office, and they become his unconditional tools. Thus in the first half of his pontificate we saw the few individuals of real integrity in the Curia removed one by one – Burke, Sarah, Müller, Pell – and an unparalleled collection of clerical villains took their place. For example, the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See, which controlled the Vatican’s money, remained under the presidency of Cardinal Calcagno, an Italian clerical crook of the old school, in spite of the fact that he was under investigation for real-estate dealings in his previous diocese which harmed the diocese’s finances; he was also a known protector of clerical sex offenders. He remained in his powerful office and had the privilege of dining every night with Pope Francis until he retired on age grounds in 2018.

An even more scandalous appointment for different reasons was that of the South American Archbishop Peňa Parra, who stepped into the shoes of Cardinal Becciu as Deputy to the Secretary of State in 2018. Peňa is a man who, as a student, was dismissed from his first seminary as morally suspect, and he is said to have made his career under the cover of a circle of homosexual clergy who protected and advanced him. It has been alleged that he fled his native Venezuela and took refuge in Rome after a serious incident which incurred the intervention of the Venezuelan police. This background has been no obstacle to Peňa’s becoming the second most powerful man in the Secretariat of State, the position that he still holds. He is just one example of the circle of unsavoury Latin Americans who have been promoted to the top of the Church under the present Pope. And so it goes on, with one scandalous appointment after another which plunge the moral reform of the Curia ever further into the realm of impossibility.

Yet the world’s media, which so savagely attacked Benedict XVI at every opportunity, have remained silent in the face of scandals which would have destroyed any other papacy. The reason is simple, that Pope Francis gives them exactly what they want. They are looking for a Pope who will weaken the Church and bend it to their own secularising agenda, and that is exactly what Pope Francis is giving them. This therefore is the key to the question: what exactly is Francis about in his pontificate? From the first, the gallery to which he has been playing has been the secular media, together with the woke intellectual and political establishment, and for their sake he espouses every fashionable secular cause, to the detriment of actual Catholic teaching. His words and actions have been calculated exclusively to win the approval of the world, and he has succeeded entirely. So entirely that he can afford to ignore any other constituency, and to get away with a clerical cronyism and corruption for which the media would have savaged him if it had come from a conservative pope.

A corollary of this is his drive against tradition. Pope Francis realises perfectly well that the only real obstacle to his revolution comes from traditionalists in the Catholic Church, the only element with any backbone prepared to recognise that the emperor has no clothes. Hence the campaign he has waged throughout his pontificate against so-called “rigid” and “backward” Catholics, whom he derides at every opportunity. He repeated this theme just a few weeks ago, when he said what a scandal it was that young priests should be going to ecclesiastical tailors to order soutanes and traditional vestments. We all know what the real scandals in the modern Church are, but the only ones that bother Pope Francis are those of priests following tradition. Hence also his promotion of Cardinal Roche to be Prefect of Divine Worship in place of Cardinal Sarah, and the Motu Proprio Traditionis Custodes to undo the work of Benedict XVI. (By the way, it has been pointed out that a possible translation of Traditionis Custodes is “the jailers of tradition,” which is certainly the job that Cardinal Roche and Pope Francis would like to be doing.) Like Pope Francis, Cardinal Roche is also fond of lecturing traditional Catholics on how out-of-date they are. It has been remarked that the Catholic Church is the only institution in which men in their seventies and eighties are continually telling people in their twenties and thirties that they need to get with it. It suits Pope Francis to pretend that Catholic traditionalism is a matter of priests liking to wear cassocks and to use incense in church, but he knows very well that it is a matter of doctrine, of the Deposit of Faith, of the perennial philosophy of the Church, of the treasures of spirituality; and that is why it is an unbreakable obstacle to a Pope who tries to lead the Church into the paths of modern secularism.

Before I close, I ought to comment on the situation in which we find ourselves now. As I said at the beginning, the events of the past three months have taken by surprise even those who had no illusions about the present regime. The downward spiral has accelerated to an extent that I for one did not foresee. What we have seen in the past three months is the scandals of Pope Francis’s papacy in their most concentrated form. I will begin with the scandal of clerical sexual abuse and cover-up, of which the most blatant example has been very much in the news. This was the case, which I am sure you have all heard of, of the Jesuit Fr Rupnik, who has been accused of sexual abuse of the most horrendous kind inflicted on religious sisters of whom he was supposed to be the spiritual director. The abuse included appalling sacrilegious elements which I will not go into, and it had been going on for decades, yet the Jesuits failed to do anything about it. Earlier this year they decided belatedly they had better be without Fr Rupnik and expelled him from the Society, but the protection of him continued on the part of the Vatican. Fr Rupnik had been found guilty of the serious canonical crime of absolving one of his sexual partners in the confessional, and had incurred the automatic penalty of excommunication, but the excommunication had been lifted within a month. Not only that but at precisely that time Fr Rupnik was invited to preach a retreat within the Vatican itself. Attempts to bring this priest to ecclesiastical trial were impeded by the fact that his offences fell under the statute of limitations; this can be lifted in appropriate cases, but Pope Francis failed to do so. He publicly denied involvement in the case, but Christopher Altieri has written: “senior churchmen close to Francis have strongly suggested that Francis had pretty much everything to do with the management of it.” Fr Rupnik is in fact typical of the immoral clerical cronies whom Pope Francis has been consistently protecting throughout his pontificate and before it.

By the middle of this year the Rupnik cover-up was reaching its peak. There were figures, such as the fellow Jesuit Cardinal Ladaria, the Prefect of the Doctrine of the Faith, who wanted Fr Rupnik to be fully punished, and that is said to have been the reason for Ladaria’s being notoriously disinvited to the recent Synod on Synodality. Vatican forces were even trying to get Fr Rupnik’s earlier excommunication quashed as irregular. Finally a public outcry was provoked, firstly when a report by the Vatican’s own Commission for the Protection of Minors criticised the laxity being shown, and secondly when it was revealed that Fr Rupnik, in spite of his expulsion from the Jesuits and the accusations still hanging over him, had been newly incardinated in the diocese of Koper. In late October the Vatican finally issued an announcement that defects in the handling of Fr Rupnik’s case had been brought to the Pope’s notice and he’d decided to waive the statute of limitations so as to allow him to stand trial. On this Christopher Altieri has commented: “Implausibly timed and preposterously explained, this announcement only gives further confirmation that Responsibility, Accountability, Transparency are transparently cynical bromides. The act of raw power shows that rule of law in the Church is a farce.”

What are the other papal acts we have been assailed with in the last weeks? We have had the Apostolic Exhortation Laudate Deum, on the so-called climate crisis, in which as somebody has remarked Pope Francis has gone full Greta Thunberg. The exhortation declares, “It is no longer possible to disbelieve the primarily human cause of climate change.” So many other articles of Christian belief have been shaken, but let us be glad that Pope Francis still upholds one dogma of unquestionable faith. Then there have been the further moral scandals we have seen, the fact that, for example, Cardinal Ricard of France has been allowed to keep his cardinalate in spite of having admitted molesting a 14-year-old girl years ago, or that Pope Francis has yet again, in the case of Bishop Gisana of Sicily, defended a bishop accused of protecting sexual abusers and has denigrated his accusers.

All this is shocking, but what we need to look at is an event of graver consequence for the Church. This is the overtly schismatical course of the German Synodal Way, which has proceeded with no attempt by Pope Francis to check it or rebuke it. On 3rd of November the Bishop of Speyer announced that he was authorising the blessing of homosexual couples, and compiling a list of priests in his diocese willing to perform them. Again, complete silence from Rome. Just a few days later came the announcement that Bishop Strickland of Tyler has been dismissed for failing to toe the Modernist line. Here we see demonstrated with perfect symmetry the pattern of Pope Francis’s pontificate: the heretic is protected and the faithful Catholic bishop is dismissed. Cardinal Müller has publicly called Bishop Strickland’s dismissal an abuse of the divine right of the papacy. An Italian journalist has been prompted to describe this papacy as “The pontificate of purges,” and to contrast Francis’s practice with his professed slogan of Mercy. Peter Kwasniewski has commented:

Years ago Henry Sire called Pope Francis ‘the dictator pope,’ Time and again this evaluation has been vindicated, and never more so than when the Pope deposes a bishop without due process, against canon law and for no imaginable grave wrongdoing. He has combined the ‘I am the Tradition’ mentality of Pius IX with the motto of Juan Perón: ‘To the friend, everything. To the enemy, not even justice.’

Serious as all this is, we need to pay more attention to the recently closed Synod on Synodality, because it’s the means by which Pope Francis is attempting to institutionalise his revolution. The first comment to make is that all these synods, including the two previous ones on the Family, have been managed so as to enable a clique of Modernists to advance their programme under the pretence of consultative process. To quote an Italian observer,

The development of the various Synods of this pontificate, starting with the one on the family, and finishing in resounding fashion with the latest, shows that the rules of the discussions and deliberations, prepared before that with the selection of the participants themselves, have been changed repeatedly so as to silence the obvious rejection on the part of the ecclesial majority of the single line of thought which was being attempted to impose on it, and to prevent the emergence within the Synod of a line that did not agree with the one predetermined from the top.

Nevertheless, when the final report emerged from the Synod we all received a surprise; it proved to be unexpectedly inconclusive. Many of us were puzzled by this for a moment, but we got the explanation from a news revelation that appeared shortly afterwards. This was the disclosure of a plan to change the rules for the papal conclaves so as to introduce the participation of lay people, including women. What this showed us was that the point of the preceding Synod had not been the document to emerge from it, but the process itself. It was designed to soften up the Church for a revolution in the papal election. Thus we had had bishops making declarations like: “It will be impossible from now on to hold a Synod without lay participation.” If that was so, people would also be demanding a papal election under similar conditions.

This news story disclosed that conversations had been in progress for months between the Pope and Cardinal Ghirlanda, to change the Conclave rules. Cardinal Ghirlanda, by the way, besides being a Jesuit, is the propounder of an extreme theological view of papal power which makes him the ideal agent to entrench the regime of papal dictatorship. As soon as the story broke, there was a prompt denial from the Vatican, accompanied by furious efforts within the various dicasteries to find out who had been responsible for the leak. The lesson this showed was that the Vatican found it had lost control of the narrative, as they say nowadays, and had been embarrassed by a revelation which pre-empted its plans. I think there can be little doubt that the reform, so called, will go ahead, but I presume that the premature revelation has upset Pope Francis’s schedule.

However, not all the papal news is made by Rome itself. One very significant development has come from Argentina, in the shape of last Sunday’s presidential election and the coming to power of Javier Milei. In the first place, this was directly contrary to the policy of the Church, which, apparently on orders from Rome, had been canvassing openly against Milei and urging voters to vote against him. More particularly, Milei is a declared enemy of Pope Francis and has publicly insulted him, while his Vice-President, Victoria Villarruel, is a traditionalist Catholic. La Croix has commented on the result: “Frankly, if a group of church affairs junkies were to sit down in a bar and try to sketch a ticket on a cocktail napkin that would amount to a rejection tout court of a sitting pope’s agenda, it’s doubtful they could have come up with anything more vivid than what actually happened.” A more stringent commentary has come from an Argentinian political expert, Professor Peretó, who stated in a recent interview that Milei’s victory

represents a rebuff to Bergoglio, and confirms what everybody knows: the Argentinians do not like Pope Francis and don’t want him. For years now, when news about Bergoglio has appeared in newspapers and portals, the administrators find themselves obliged to close readers’ comments, which are for the most part contemptuous and harsh. Many people may have thought that the rejection of Bergoglio was widespread only among those who read and keep informed. It has now been shown that it’s present in all social strata, even among the poor. For that very reason, Bergoglio will never come to Argentina, because his journey would be a failure. It is certain that the majority of the lower clergy, especially the younger priests, are sick of Bergoglio and don’t want anything to do with him: a rejection which embraces everything that the Pope does and advocates.

That is the view from Argentina, which the rest of the world might be advised to take heed of, as the cardinal electors would have been in 2013.

Thus, it seems that in this area too Pope Francis’s plans have come unstuck, and we shouldn’t underestimate the consequences of it for a Pope who’s so naked a politician as Francis. So, to sum up, what can we expect for the immediate future? I hesitate to make any predictions, but what the events of the past few weeks have shown us is that Pope Francis is an old man in a hurry. He’s desperate to institutionalise his revolution before he dies, and he’ll stop at nothing to achieve that. So the answer to the question, “how much lower can we sink?” is that there’s probably no limit to it, and we can expect to be scandalised by worse and worse enormities. However, Pope Francis needs to bear in mind that he’s not in control of everything. Besides presidential elections in Argentina, closer to home there’s one very traditional law that he has no power to repeal, and that’s the law of human mortality. The final reality is that Pope Francis will not be here for ever, but that Christ has told us, “Behold I am with you always, even to the consummation of the world.”

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