Editorial of Rorate Caeli (June 20, 2016)
When, minutes after the election of Cardinal Bergoglio as Pope, this venue published the most widely read piece in its history, a forecast of the future pontificate based on past experience, this page was brutally criticized for it. The experience of Cardinal Bergoglio as Archbishop of Buenos Aires had provided more than enough information on his personality, his theological inclinations, his idiosyncrasies. That is, nothing done by him in the past three years has been a surprise to those who knew him. It was all foreseeable: Saul does not become Paul without a Damascene conversion, and it must be admitted even Saul had what any conversion demands — an overzealous heart, hard, but open to the truth.
Many conservative, traditional-minded Catholics are so weary of the weekly, frequently even daily, shocks provided by this Pontificate that they look for easy ways out. Perhaps the Pope is not the Pope. Maybe Benedict XVI is still the Pope. Maybe Benedict XVI never truly resigned: even his Secretary and current Prefect of the Papal Household, Abp. Georg Gänswein, provided some leeway for this theory by implying the existence of a bizarre papal diarchy.
Other souls wonder if perhaps private revelations of the past or present might explain this situation. Eminent theologians pronounce the limits of what is bearable have been crossed. The occasional critic even goes so far as to ask for the Pope’s resignation. In this specific instance, it must be said once again that this is a vain exercise: based on this Pope’s personality, he will never resign. Ever. Not only that: his supporters, the forces that made every possible effort to have him elected (including sabotaging the two previous pontificates), would never allow this to happen. So, yes, Francis is staying in the Vatican — as “titular” Pope, just to be clear, never as “emeritus” — until his last gasp, and the faithful should not be surprised if a comatose pope is still creating cardinals many years from now…
O somma sapienza, quanta è l’arte / che mostri in cielo, in terra e nel mal mondo, / e quanto giusto tua virtù comparte! — Dante, Commedia (Inferno, c. XIX)
We deserve Francis. What is missing in many souls is a typically Christian attitude: resignation. It was not the Holy Spirit who chose Francis, that is not how conclaves work. But God has certainly allowed it, and he has allowed it to continue, and he will allow it until He deigns it necessary to end his Vicar’s time here on earth, as He does to each one of us.
Other than resignation, missing from many spirits is the notion of collective justice — and collective punishment. We have sinned, we have grievously sinned. So many Catholics have been for long immensely unfaithful to the Apostolic tradition they have received, to the pure doctrine that was passed on: is it surprising that from this soil arise unfaithful hierarchs? What is surprising is not that we have Francis as Pope, but that it took so many centuries for us to have a Pope like him. As it is known, the Popes who were considered “bad” and “appalling” in Catholic history never dared touch the deposit of the faith, or to mollify this deposit so it would fit into contemporary mores; they may have been personally immoral, and their example caused great scandal and grievous consequences, but their utterances on matters of faith, moral, sacraments did not themselves cause scandal (the examples of such were so rare as to be counted on a couple of fingers).
We deserve Francis. King Josiah was the exception, and Judah was punished before and after him: was there not a single just man in Judah under King Amon? Was not Jeremiah alive and warning of dangers under King Zedekiah? Yet even the just were punished on this earth, collectively, by what God allowed to happen: irreverent kings, leaders who acted as if God did not exist. The just were subjected to upheaval on this earth, but it profited for their eventual eternal life: as Dante wrote in the Inferno, “O Supreme Wisdom, how great is the perfection / that you show in heaven, on earth, and in hell / and how justly you spread your virtue!”.
We deserve Francis. The Catholic faithful on earth in this moment in history deserve him — and deserve worse, so be prepared. We will bear it because we must bear it, because this is what God has prepared for us. If you hope for something better, then the answer is prayer, and fasting, and almsgiving, the personal work of each one for one’s own final perseverance, and the teaching of the truth of the Gospel, especially to one’s children. One day, a new Josiah will arise to sit on the cathedra of Peter in Rome. Yet even afterwards, new chastisements and exiles will remain part of Catholic life, in this Church founded by “the Just who died for the unjust” (I Pet 3:18).