On December 7, 1914, Pope Benedict XV wrote suggested that a temporary hiatus in the “Great War” be observed in honor of the Christmas celebration.
While his proposal was not well received by the commanding officers of the German and British militaries, something altogether different was happening in the trenches of the Western Front. The Germans had begun placing small Christmas trees along the perimeter of their encampment, wherever they could find the space. On Christmas eve, as was the ancient custom, they filled the trees with candles and lit them. Then, they began singing:
Stille Nacht! Heil’ge Nacht!
Alles schläft; einsam wacht
Nur das traute hoch heilige Paar.
Holder Knab’ im lockigen Haar,
Schlafe in himmlischer Ruh!
Across No Man’s Land, the British soldiers — some of whom had been opening parcels sent from home, heard the familiar strains. In their own trenches, they were moved to joined in the verse:
Silent Night! Holy Night!
All is calm, all is bright
Round young virgin mother and child
Holy infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace….sleep in heavenly peace!
So began the Christmas Truce of 1914 — a rare and brief moment of unplanned armistice between two opposing factions in one of the bloodiest wars in history. The two sides took the opportunity to bury their dead, and, as some accounts would have it, to play a brief game of soccer together. The interlude did not last long, and almost as soon as it had begun, the ceasefire ended, the soldiers returning to their trenches to begin shooting again at the same men they had just enjoyed a brief moment of shared Christian experience with. Were it not for the obstinacy of their superiors, many would no doubt have preferred never to resume combat. After all, in the European battlefields of World War I, most of the combatants shared a fundamental set of values; many professed the same creed.
Sadly, such fellowship is not possible in our present ecclesiastical conflict. This Christmas, there will be no armistice, however brief. The pope — especially the pope, who leads the charge for his axis of power — will not call for a laying down of arms. It is not a war for land, or for honor, but for souls — and the devil, who has been marshaling his forces in Rome, never rests.
Since March 13, 2013, there has been a non-stop escalation in the newly-intensified battle between the forces that seek to undermine Catholic teaching — that is to say, teaching that is from God Himself, passed on to mankind through Scripture, Tradition, and apostolic authority — and those who would seek to defend it from enemies not just external to the Mystical Body of Christ, but within. It is not a fight that began with the present pontificate; far from it. One could trace the origins back centuries, though history will show that a clear and purposeful acceleration of the internal machination to destroy the Church began in the 1960s with the hijacking of the Second Vatican Council by progressive forces and the subsequent suppression of the immune system of Christ’s mystical bride through the exile of authentic Catholic worship and the poisoned fruit of the fabricated, obfuscating disaster of a liturgy that took its place.
As Pope St. Pius X so presciently warned the faithful in his encyclical against the modernists, Pascendi Dominici Gregis:
Nor indeed would he be wrong in regarding them as the most pernicious of all the adversaries of the Church. For, as We have said, they put into operation their designs for her undoing, not from without but from within. Hence, the danger is present almost in the very veins and heart of the Church, whose injury is the more certain from the very fact that their knowledge of her is more intimate. Moreover, they lay the ax not to the branches and shoots, but to the very root, that is, to the faith and its deepest fibers. And once having struck at this root of immortality, they proceed to diffuse poison through the whole tree, so that there is no part of Catholic truth which they leave untouched, none that they do not strive to corrupt.
Decades after this sabotage was begun in earnest, it seems as though we at last have slipped into the mirror world, where good is called evil, and evil good. In his Christmas address to the curia this week, Pope Francis intoned the inversion as he took aim at those critics of his innovations that defy Christ’s own teaching on marriage, sin, and the sacraments:
There are also cases of malicious resistance, which spring up in misguided minds and come to the fore when the devil inspires ill intentions (often cloaked in sheep’s clothing). This last kind of resistance hides behind words of self-justification and, often, accusation; it takes refuge in traditions, appearances, formalities, in the familiar, or else in a desire to make everything personal, failing to distinguish between the act, the actor, and the action.
Traditions, appearances, formalities, and the familiar — these are the constancy of the Church; she is unchanging because her truths are timeless. Her Magisterium may deepen our understanding of these truths, but it may never contradict them.
Francis, however, is fond of one of the slogans of Martin Luther: semper reformanda. Always reforming, always changing, always innovating, tearing up the foundations laid down by thousands of years of popes, bishops, saints, and doctors of the Church. And under the constant shelling, even these ancient and immutable structures have begun to appear as less than certain in the eyes of many of the faithful who have suffered such a loss of morale.
Behind enemy lines, reports are equally grim. We’ve heard many reports indicating that the Vatican increasingly resembles an occupied state. Roughly two years ago, I had dinner with a contact of mine who spends a good deal of time at the Vatican. At the time, Francis enjoyed a great deal of external popularity, but this individual told me, “In the Vatican, he is not well-liked.” Perhaps most potent in the minds of many insiders was Francis’ scathing address to the curia at Christmas of 2014. Not as widely reported was that he also had no kind words to say for the “rank-and-file”of the Vatican who were also present — the very workers who make the Catholic city-state function from day to day. One woman told my dinner companion that in addition to the dressing-down, “He didn’t even say ‘Merry Christmas’ to us.” I’ve had countless discussions with parish priests who feel as though he is always insulting them, calling them out, and berating them with his broad criticisms. Parents of large families feel similarly harangued, whether because of his comment about them breeding like “rabbits”, his apparent willingness to allow eugenic contraception, or the way his general admonitions against “rigidity” flies in the face of those who are attempting to teach their children right from wrong.
We have also noted that sources in Rome have been strangely unwilling to go on record about certain widely-known rumors, such as the alleged papal outburst over the 13 cardinals letter. As Maike Hickson reported at the time:
As a journalist, I wanted more to go on, so I asked if Fr. Giuseppe would contact those those with whom he had spoken who had first-hand sources. Would any of them, I asked, be willing to write down carefully and accurately what they had witnessed, even if only anonymously?
The unanimous response was a resounding, “No.” All of these eye-witnesses appeared to be too afraid even to write an anonymous account of what had transpired! Father Giuseppe was unwilling to let it go. He also had several contacts who live at Casa Santa Marta. Surely, these must have been present in the dining room when Pope Francis spoke, or had at least have heard about what happened? Their response to his question was not to deny it, but only to change the topic. Their unwillingness to confirm it was telling, but their refusal to deny it even moreso.
Father Giuseppe assured me, however, that the story about the papal outburst of anger is now known everywhere in Rome, a city “where there are no secrets; it is too small a place for that.”
We held off on publishing that story for months, hoping and waiting that someone would appear who was willing to make a statement about what happened. Instead, we heard again and again that everyone knew it had happened, but nobody was going to talk. It felt as though we were trying to get a witness on the stand in a mafia trial.
Other conversations with sources inside various Vatican offices have turned up a genuine concern that their communications are being monitored, KGB style. Vatican-issued cell phones and email addresses are treated with absolute suspicion, and reports of employees being quietly dismissed from congregations like the CDF for the crime of agreeing with the resistance to Amoris Laetitia have surfaced. I have written about the “Dictatorship of Mercy” — the heavy handedness with which the Francis Vatican is implementing its agenda; Maike Hickson has written, too, about Russia’s errors infecting Rome. Bishop Athanasius Schneider — who grew up under the boot of Soviet Communism — said recently that:
“The reaction to the dubia is a proof of the climate in which we actually live in the Church right now,” Bishop Schneider said. “We live in a climate of threats and of denial of dialogue towards a specific group.”
Now, too, Steve Jalsevac, co-founder and managing director of LifeSiteNews, has written about his recent experiences in Rome:
After meeting with cardinals, bishops and other Vatican agency and dicastery staff, John-Henry Westen, our new Rome reporter, Jan Bentz, and I saw a consistent pattern of widespread anxiety and very real fear among faithful Church servants. We have never encountered this before.
Many were afraid of being removed from their positions, fired from their jobs in Vatican agencies or of encountering severe public or private reprimands and personal accusations from those around the pope or even from Francis himself. They are also fearful and anxious about the great damage being done to the Church and being helpless to stop it.
Near the end of our visit, one very high-level cleric confirmed our observations. He added, “One can sense the fear. It is tangible.” Another, who has always been willing to discuss difficult situations, immediately told us that he would not talk, even off the record, in confidence, about any of the current controversies. We were told not to ask him any questions about these things.
Jalsevac also cites an interview with Vatican journalist Edward Pentin in Regina Magazine in which he discussed the political manipulation, deceit, and calumny happening within Vatican walls. Says Jalsevac, “These are strong words from this always top-notch Vatican reporter who is normally soft-spoken and very mild-mannered.” He went on to describe the rough treatment that journalists were given at a press event with Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago:
After the newly installed cardinal’s unsatisfactory answers to two questions from Ed Pentin, I was given the nod. While briefly prefacing my question, I was suddenly harshly interrupted by a Vatican press official demanding, “Ask the question!” Considering that the preface was brief, the question was about to be asked and there were only a handful of media persons in the room, the interruption was totally uncalled for.
I immediately asked the question regarding the animosity that respectful questioners of Francis have been enduring and to which the cardinal astonishingly responded by denying any knowledge of such a thing occurring. Then, when John-Henry Westen put up his hand to ask a question, a spontaneous rule was announced by the press official. He refused to allow John-Henry’s question saying that only one question was permitted from each agency.
That sudden ruling caused an uncomfortable stir among the several other media representatives. Four in a row were now also not permitted to ask their questions because of the new rule. When the last one was denied, Cardinal Cupich said, “Why not, since yours is a friendly question?” And so that softball question was permitted.
The growing hostility to faithful media who dare to simply question with respect the actions or statements of those around Pope Francis or of the pope himself was especially highlighted in a December 7 Reuters report.
Reuters stated, “Using precise psychological terms,” Pope Francis “said scandal-mongering media risked falling prey to coprophilia, or arousal from excrement, and consumers of these media risked coprophagia, or eating excrement.”
So now, if the translation is correct, as most of these usually are, if we dare to see and report what are obviously newsworthy developments that do not reflect well on the pope or his close collaborators, we are “scandal-mongering,” “eating excrement” and being sexually aroused by this excrement of reporting uncomfortable truth.
How can a pope, the Vicar of Christ, make such vile accusations?
Jalsevac, who travels to Rome multiple times a year as a journalist, finishes his accounting with a statement that would no doubt be echoed by many now watching these events unfold: “I have never experienced anything like this in my lifetime…”
Over these past few years, I have often found myself wondering, Just what is it about Francis that makes so many men afraid? He is not a physically intimidating man. He seems incapable of providing coherent responses (when he provides any at all) to questions from critics, so he seems unlikely to be viewed as an intellectual threat. He is reported to have an explosive temper, but all the shouting in the world would not give a grown man who has given his life to Christ cause to cower. There must be something more. Something more at work in the reticence of those with the power and position to do so to confront the man. Something beyond career-mindedness. I suspect — on some level, I might even say I “sense” — actual fear.
The news broke today in the English speaking world that Francis has now been reported to have admitted something rather astonishing within his small circle of collaborators. “It is not to be excluded,” he is alleged to have said, “that I will enter history as the one who split the Catholic Church.” Even this moment of self-awareness gives rise to no indication that he will call for a ceasefire and immerse himself in the fullness of Catholic truth.
Christmas is almost upon us, but there will be no peace until Pope Francis is either converted or has vacated the papal throne.
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher and Executive Director of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have seven children.