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Francis's Efforts to Remake the Church in His Image Are Doomed to Failure
The appointment of Tucho Fernandez as head of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of Faith, in connection with the Synod on Synodality, augurs big changes in the Catholic Church. Soon-to-be Cardinal Fernandez, along with Cardinals McElroy and Cupich, hope to succeed in their project of undoing St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI's moral theology from the ground up, abolishing the notion of intrinsic evil and thereby opening the door for the Church to provide communion (and perhaps even blessings) indifferently to all. At the same time, Cardinal Roche works diligently to permanently abolish the Traditional Latin Mass, the great vehicle for transmitting Catholic faith throughout the ages. This comes in connection with high-profile new episcopal appointments in Toronto, Brussels, and Madrid-- modern bishops, men who subscribe to Francis's radical vision for the Church. The present moment is, in the ungainly phrase of one journalist, "an ecclesial earthquake." The changes, we are told, are irreversible and permanent. It will be Francis's Church, Francis's magisterium, from here on out.
But like all attempts to subjugate the Church of Christ to human ends, these will fail as well. It is clearer now than ever that Francis's vision for the Church is being rejected en masse. Catholicism is in free-fall in Europe and the Americas. The German Church embraced "The Synodal Way" zealously-- and saw more than half a million leave just in the last year, a new record. A Church divided upon itself, at war with its own traditions, and bereft of both orthodoxy and beautiful liturgy simply cannot evangelize. It must walk the path to completion, for that is the only path marked out for it.
To implement his sweeping overhaul of the Church, Francis must rely on an outsized vision of the papacy. That view of the papacy ceased to have currency around 1968, when liberal bishops and laity dissented in large numbers from Humanae Vitae. Further, Francis undermines arguments for obedience every time he undermines his papal predecessors (quite frequently these days). A notion of obedience to the Pope that requires adherents to hold different attitudes and beliefs at different times is simply unsustainable. Indeed, in an age when people are leaving organized religion- and especially the Catholic Church- in droves, the hierarchy has less of a hold over the faithful than ever. And this is to say nothing of the sex abuse scandals that have rocked the Church and destroyed trust in the Catholic hierarchy over the past three decades. Meanwhile, the institutional Church tries desperately to keep its most attractive elements (its historic liturgy, devotions, sacred art and traditions) hidden as a far from view as possible.
This means that Francis's Church puts great emphasis on its most off-putting element-- blind devotion to the Pope and bishops-- even as it strips away the Church's own history, tradition, and teaching. Meanwhile, traditional Catholicism continues to grow and evangelize. In this climate, we will see the orthodox practice of the Catholic faith continue, but with a growing distance from the hierarchy-- especially the hierarchy in Rome. In 50 years, will anyone be reading Francis's encyclicals? Fernandez's books? Will Roche have any continuing influence on the liturgy?
Rome can draw up elaborate plans for new teachings, new liturgies, and "ecclesial earthquakes." But Francis's Church, sapped of both worldly power and supernatural faith, simply lacks the power to carry it all out.