Pope Francis is still very alive – vultures begin to circle

Synodal pope

Do you know that the Catholic Church is now “more fractured than at any time in her recent history”? And do you realize that it’s all the fault of just one man — Pope Francis?

That claim was made this past week in the latest attack on the 87-year-old pope, a declaration written (anonymously, of course!) by some brave soul who is reportedly one of the Church’s cardinals.

No one in the elite red-hatted college is 15 years old, but only someone around that age could be so unaware and uninvolved in Catholicism’s “recent history” to make such an assertion.

Channeling the late Cardinal Pell

The new manifesto bears the title “The Vatican Tomorrow”.

It was posted online in five languages on February 29 by a conservative Italian Catholic news site called, in its English version, “Daily Compass”.

The author has hidden behind the nom de plume “Demos II”.

He says his purpose is to “build on” the “original reflections” published two years ago by the first “Demos”, another courageous cardinal who tried to camouflage his real identity.

That turned out to be George Pell, it was revealed after the Australian’s death. But describing what he wrote as “reflections” is like calling Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine a peace-keeping mission.

Pell’s verbal attack on Pope Francis was a screed on “The Vatican Today”.

Among a long list of grievances, many of them personal, he lambasted the current pontificate as “a catastrophe”, saying it was fomenting “heresy” and emboldening “Protestant liberals in the Catholic Church”.

The late Australian cardinal insisted that the man who succeeds Francis must “restore normality, restore doctrinal clarity in faith and morals, (and) restore a proper respect for the law”.

Indeed, it was a manifesto for the next conclave and a warning that the Church would succumb to “spiritual and doctrinal threats” if his fellow cardinals did not elect a more traditionalist pope.

This is the foundation Demos II says he and his cohorts are trying to “build on”…

“It is clear that the strength of Pope Francis’ pontificate is the added emphasis he has given to compassion toward the weak, outreach to the poor and marginalized, concern for the dignity of creation and the environmental issues that flow from it, and efforts to accompany the suffering and alienated in their burdens,” Demos II acknowledges at the outset of his own manifesto.

But this is the only positive assessment he can offer for a pontificate that has lasted nearly eleven years and has put the Church on the road to much-need reform.

It is a program based, not on some shortsighted and losing effort to revive a collapsing Eurocentric paradigm, but on re-reading and “re-praying” (that is, discernment) of the radical demands of the Gospel in light of what is likely to be one of the biggest changes epochs in human history.

Who’s really at fault for weakening the Church’s witness?

Demos II focuses the rest of his “contribution” to the discussions that are obviously now underway concerning the next conclave on Francis’ “shortcomings”.

He lists these shortcomings as

  • “an autocratic, at times seemingly vindictive, style of governance;
  • a carelessness in matters of law;
  • an intolerance for even respectful disagreement; and – most seriously – a pattern of ambiguity in matters of faith and morals causing confusion among the faithful”.

This anonymous cardinal says that ambiguity undermines “confidence in the Word of God”, which “weakens evangelical witness”. This is all the fault of the current pope.

Millions and millions of people around the world, and they are not only Catholics, would strongly disagree.

They would say it is thanks to Pope Francis that the Church’s evangelical witness has actually been strengthened and that Christians are becoming more confident than ever in the Word of God, especially in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The pope’s radical life and witness, despite personal failures and blind-spots, has made the Church a true “friend” and “companion” and “fellow traveller” of all humanity at a perilous time in history.

In spite of his own sinfulness, which he readily acknowledges, he has helped restore the image of a Church so devastatingly discredited by sexual abuse and its cover-up, by the obsession that many of its bishops seem to have with wielding power in the public square and over individual consciences, and by the questionable alliances certain Catholics have made with unsavoury political leaders in many parts of the world.

Obviously, there are others in the Church who agreed with Cardinal Pell’s screed from two years ago (Lent 2022, it was dated) and are now applauding Demos II, too.

And there is no denying that many of them are seminarians and young priests like a group in Spain that recently wished, publicly, that there will soon be a new pope.

At the start of the latest episode of their weekly YouTube program called “The Sacristy of the Vendée. A counter-revolutionary priestly gathering”, one of the young clerics (in a cassock, naturally) said: “I also pray a lot for the pope, so that he can go to heaven as soon as possible.”

The other five priests, Spanish-speakers from different countries, laughed over the comments.

The most radically evangelical of popes

Pope Francis has irritated the more conservative and traditionalist members of the Church’s ordained caste and those lay people who support their brand of clericalism.

They say they feel insulted, personally attacked, and unjustly targeted. But so did the religious authorities that Jesus of Nazareth consistently challenged and upbraided for being hypocrites.

Yet we call the message he preached Good News, even if it’s often hard for us to conform to it.

And so, it bears repeating, Francis is probably one of the most radically evangelical popes the Church has ever had.

If there is a Catholic among us, or anyone else in this world, who has not at times felt challenged or irritated by him, or unmasked for hypocrisy, then that person has not been paying attention.

Yes, we as Church are struggling at times and often feel a bit lost and disoriented as we try to discern what God’s Spirit is calling us to become in this rapidly changing world.

But the only path is to move forward.

We will continue to struggle and make mistakes.

We won’t always get it right.

But let’s be clear, Pope Francis is not the problem. If anything, he’s a very big part of the solution.

  • Robert Mickens writes for La Croix International.
  • First published in La-Croix International. Republished with permission.
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