Pope Francis, the darling of the liberal media, is having a bad month. For those who think that the Holy Father is the best Pope in the 2000 years of Catholicism, this is a disaster. For those who have found the past five years of his pontificate frustrating to say the least, this is a tipping point in the fight for the heart of the Catholic Church.
This month’s drama started with the dismissal of Cardinal Ludwig Müller who was, until recently, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It is true that, technically, he was not fired. It was also true that technically is the key word here.
It is traditional for prefects to remain in their position until illness, age or death prevents them from being able to continue in their role. Once assigned a role, Müller will have been given 5 years, and this term of service – as usually happens – was expected to be renewed. Indeed everybody, including the Cardinal himself, expected this to happen. As has already been alluded to, it did not simply happen like this: Müller was informed that his services as prefect were no longer required with a pitiful notice period of 24 hours. What makes this bothersome for the Pope is that Müller, certainly no harmless puppy, criticised the method in which he was dismissed in a public interview.
The sorry story does not stop there. That night, Cardinal Müller called an old friend (holidaying at the time) to relay this tale. This friend was Cardinal Joachim Meisner: one of the four Cardinals who challenged the Pope with regards to his seeming endorsement of divorced and remarried Catholics receiving Holy Communion. Leaving aside the complex theological debates, we turn instead to the Pope’s reaction to the dubia issued by the four Cardinals who were concerned that a footnote in Amoris Laetitia seemingly sanctioned this practice. Francis simply ignored Meisner and the other three Cardinals’s plea for clarification and, when they publicly requested an audience with him, he continued to ignore them.
A phone conversation, of course, is not a bad thing. What happened afterwards, however, can only be described as tragic. Said to be feeling a great deal of sadness, Cardinal Meisner retired to bed. He fell asleep reading the Breviary, and passed away during the night.
As I trust was clear from my introductory paragraph, things have gone from bad to worse for Pope Francis. At his funeral, an old and dear friend of Cardinal Meisner sent a tribute to be read by a celebrant. This friend was (and you really can’t make this up) Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Before we continue, allow us to recall the unusual circumstances surrounding the Pope Emeritus. In 2013, he announced his unexpected resignation to the College of Cardinals, and also swore allegiance to – and silence for – his successor in the Seat of St Peter.
So, what was it that Benedict had to say for himself? The Pope Emeritus said that it was hard for Meisner to leave his office ‘at a time when the Church had a pressing need for shepherds who would oppose the dictatorship of the zeitgeist, fully resolved to act and think from a faith standpoint’, and making a brief remark that Meisner understood that ‘the Lord does not leave his Church, even if at times the ship is almost filled to the point of shipwreck’.
Do not underestimate the meaning here. This is the first confirmatory glimpse we have had that Benedict is most unhappy with the direction of the pontificate of Jorge Bergoglio. Alike in theory, and poles apart in practice, Benedict symbolizes the ideals of orthodoxy and truth that Francis appears to have abandoned.
Such ideals are highly regarded amongst Catholics. The debasement of the Faith has led many to lose faith in Francis, most clearly demonstrated by the plunge in attendance of papal audiences in comparison to those of Benedict. As I have written for this website before, people want the security that Truth brings. Francis seems hell bent on the destroying the very notion.
This intervention, of sorts, from Benedict will act as encouragement for those who are concerned with the direction in which the Church is being taken by Francis. The gloves have come off, and Francis’s attitude to both criticism and the ideals of Catholicism cannot sustain his illusion for much longer. It is the eternal souls of the followers of the Church, rather than popularity ratings of the media, that is at stake here.
Pope Francis would do well to remember that.