Alice opened the door and found that it led into a small passage, not much larger than a rat-hole: she knelt down and looked along the passage into the loveliest garden you ever saw. How she longed to get out of that dark hall, and wander about among those beds of bright flowers and those cool fountains, but she could not even get her head through the doorway; ‘and even if my head would go through,’ thought poor Alice, ‘it would be of very little use without my shoulders. Oh, how I wish I could shut up like a telescope! I think I could, if I only knew how to begin.’ For, you see, so many out-of-the-way things had happened lately, that Alice had begun to think that very few things indeed were really impossible.
“This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.”
It’s time to make a choice. We’ve got to figure out which side we’re on — the side of truth, or the side that makes us feel safe and warm in our beds.
Things have been happening which Catholics might understandably believe to be impossible. Yet here we are. I don’t want to linger in Alice’s dark hall, do you? I have other things to do.
Fortunately, the situation in the Church is changing so rapidly that much of the wake-up work is being done for me. After everything else, the reinstatement of a public heretic without the requirement of the public renunciation of his scandalous writings makes me think we’re running out of catalysts. Any fence-sitters who don’t hop off soon are likely too afraid to ever come down.
Already there are some signs in the writings of mainstream Catholic figures that at last, they are being forced to confront difficult possibilities. Even if only to tell us that there is nothing to worry about. For example, see Simcha Fisher on “the phone call“:
What is not possible is that the Pope called her and said, “Feel free to flout Catholic teaching, disrespect your priest and your bishop, set an example of sin and rebellion for your two teenage daughters.” Much as the Catholic Franciscophobes would like to believe it, the Pope has never said or taught anything that contradicts Church doctrine. Never.
(What was that Shakespeare said about protesting too much?)
Elizabeth Scalia has a more astute observation on the pope’s phone call:
Pope Francis is not stupid. He’s media savvy enough to understand that his personal phone calls can become fodder for anyone with an agenda. That leads many to conclude that he either doesn’t care and is content to “make a mess” and let the Holy Spirit sort it out (an idea I reject because I do not believe Francis wants the destructive energy of chaos about him) or that he wants to create a buzz that will influence discussions at the Extraordinary Synod of the Family which will take place in October. That would be a manipulative, rather Machiavellian tactic suggesting a pope who works in bad faith, embracing very worldly tactics while fomenting confusion.
Phil Lawler made a reluctant admission of his own about Francis’s penchant for obfuscation:
[I]t’s no longer possible to deny that some of the Pope’s offhand comments have created confusion, in ways that he should have anticipated. Some of those statements were bound to be interpreted in ways that will cause future problems for the Pope, and for countless other Catholics.
Father Dwight Longnecker, who has been very astute in his observations of the present situation, also wrote this week on the same topic. In his post, the problems which have arisen from this “papal style” (even if the pope is not “Machiavellian”) are very cogently articulated:
When he behaves in this way he is causing confusion among the faithful. Should a pope interfere in the pastoral matters of an individual in another country? Shouldn’t it be the responsibility of the local pastor and bishop? Isn’t it a fair observation to ask why a pope who is all for downsizing the papacy, delegating and handing over to the people should then step in an get involved at a very local level? To ask these questions does not mean one is an arch conservative semi sedevacantist. It’s a matter of common sense.
Furthermore, shouldn’t a pope realize he is pope and behave accordingly? No matter what the pope’s personal style and personal preferences, he is now the pope and whether he likes it or not, people hang on his every word and action. Yes, yes, we all know that a chat with reporters on a plane or a personal phone call by a pope are not infallible doctrinal statements. The problem is, a huge number of people in the world don’t realize that. Pope Francis should therefore understand that he is no longer Padre Bergoglio and learn that one of the greatest things a pope can do is to not do anything.
There is another problem with Pope Francis’ style which is lurking in the background which I have not heard anyone else commenting on, and it is this: if a person in a public role trivializes that role with a very personal and informal style, then when they want to make a formal pronouncement the chances are that they will not be taken seriously. Make enough gaffes and speak off the cuff enough and soon the world will consider everything you say to be a gaffe and all your pronouncements to be inconsequential, off the cuff matters of opinion.
So when Pope Francis makes an off the cuff remark or an informal phone call that has to be “re-interpreted” and “put into context” by everyone from mommy bloggers in Iowa to the Vatican press office it cheapens all his statements. When he stands up and speaks formally about the evils of greed, the threat of war, the horrors of abortion or the crime of human trafficking–because he has made public off the cuff remarks which are matters of opinion hoi polloi and the press will treat those comments also as being no more than a matter of opinion.
When our modern relativistic society already considers most statements on everything to be no more than a matter of opinion, then the pope’s serious statements will then be dismissed as no more than one man’s opinion. He’s a nice man and everybody likes him, but his informality and off the cuff remarks have then cheapened his authority and whatever he says will be treated as no more than the opinion of that nice old codger in the white outfit in Rome. Catholics around the world are right to be alarmed at the Pope’s style.
Father Longnecker presents us with a conclusion-by-way-of-dichotomy, and it’s a doozy (emphasis mine):
The way things stand at the moment there are only two conclusions one can draw: first, that the Pope knows exactly what he is doing and the consequences of his style, and that it is his intention to weaken the authority of the papacy and bring it down to no more than the opinion of one person or second, that in this area of personal style and communications he is an amateur and he needs to stop, take stock, listen to the experts and reign in his style.
You may have surmised which theory I subscribe to.
There is a famous quote from Sherlock Holmes in which he asks Watson the rhetorical question, “How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?”
Earlier in the same book (The Sign of Four), he ascertains a great deal of information about Watson’s tragically deceased brother — much to Watson’s disbelief and dismay — merely by evaluating the condition of his watch, which remains in Watson’s possession. When confronted about the conclusions he has reached, and whether or not it was “mere guess-work”, Sherlock explains his method.
“I never guess.” Says Holmes. “It is a shocking habit,—destructive to the logical faculty. What seems strange to you is only so because you do not follow my train of thought or observe the small facts upon which large inferences may depend.”
The small facts upon which large inferences depend. These are the things that have begun to rise to the surface of this papacy. Seemingly insignificant occurrences when taken by themselves, but which add up to a tidal wave of change and misdirection. The interviews, the phone calls, the casual statements, the changing of rubrics, the breaking of traditions, the ostentatious humility, the endless stream of insults directed at traditional Catholics and Catholic piety, the cavalier attitude toward discipline, the reinstatement of unrepentant heretics, the frequent self-contradiction (making it impossible to pin down what he really believes), the praising of heterodox thinkers, the affectionate feelings expressed toward members of dangerous ideologies, the releasing of information before pulling it back, the setting of expectations long enough in advance that a course seems set, the glossing over of all manner of bad behavior under the auspices of “mercy” or “pastoral concern”…it all adds up.
It paints a picture of a man who may very well have said, “Feel free to flout Catholic teaching, disrespect your priest and your bishop, set an example of sin and rebellion for your two teenage daughters.” Of a pope who is “not stupid” and is “media savvy enough to understand that his personal phone calls can become fodder for anyone with an agenda”. Of a shepherd who “doesn’t care and is content to ‘make a mess'” and is not afraid to employ a “manipulative, rather Machiavellian tactic” and do so “in bad faith, embracing very worldly tactics while fomenting confusion.” It is true to say that “it’s no longer possible to deny that some of the Pope’s offhand comments have created confusion” that he not only “should have” but must have anticipated. And it is thus not at all illogical to conclude that “the Pope knows exactly what he is doing and the consequences of his style, and that it is his intention to weaken the authority of the papacy and bring it down to no more than the opinion of one person.”
I would suggest to you that the diminishment of the papacy — or as he would call it, the Roman See — is something he will not fully embrace until he has used every last drop of that authority to change all that he can; to set an unalterable future course for the Catholic Church. He is opposed to the centralization of authority in the papacy except when he is ecstatically for it. I see it as a papal kamikaze mission, set to self-destruct the institution but still wringing from it the maximum benefit to the revolutionary agenda which animates this papacy.
Please. Take the red pill. Stop trying to find a way to tell yourself that what is happening is impossible, and start trying to understand what it means, and how we can survive it and rebuild.
Steve Skojec is a storyteller, writer, blogger, photographer, designer, and sci-fi fan. He 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. He lives in Arizona with his wife Jamie and six of their seven children.