Friday, March 01, 2024

Conservative cardinal says next pope must repair Church ‘fractured’ by Francis

Are the Vatican Museums air conditioned?

A new document reported to be from an unidentified Catholic cardinal says the next pope must work to heal a “Church more fractured than at any time in her recent history.”

The document called “The Vatican Tomorrow” appearing in the Daily Compass, a conservative Catholic website, under the name Demos II, a reference to the 2022 letter by “Demos” – later revealed to be the Australian Cardinal George Pell, who died last year – which criticized aspects of the pontificate of Pope Francis.

Although Demos II praised Francis’s compassion toward the weak, outreach to the poor and marginalized, concern for the dignity of creation, and efforts to accompany the suffering and alienated in their burdens, it accused the pontiff of having an autocratic and “at times seemingly vindictive” style of governance.

It accused Francis of carelessness in matters of law; an intolerance for disagreement; and a pattern of ambiguity in matters of faith and morals.

“Confusion breeds division and conflict. It undermines confidence in the Word of God. It weakens evangelical witness. And the result today is a Church more fractured than at any time in her recent history,” Demos II writes.

The unnamed cardinal offers seven “practical observations” for the next pontiff.

First, he says real authority is damaged by authoritarian means in its exercise, emphasizing the pope “is not an autocrat.” He cannot change Church doctrine, and he must not invent or alter the Church’s discipline arbitrarily. “A new Pope must restore the hermeneutic of continuity in Catholic life and reassert Vatican II’s understanding of the papacy’s proper role,” Demos II writes.

Second, he says just as the Church is not an autocracy, “neither is she a democracy,” adding the popes “have no authority” to refashion Church’s teachings “to fit more comfortably with the world.”

Third, Demos II says ambiguity is neither evangelical nor welcoming. “Rather, it breeds doubt and feeds schismatic impulses,” he says.

Fourth, the cardinal emphasizes the Catholic Church is also a community of law, and accuses Francis of having “excessive reliance on the motu proprio as a tool for governance and a general carelessness and distaste for canonical detail.”

Fifth, he says the Church can never be reduced to “a system of flexible ethics or sociological analysis and remodeling to fit the instincts and appetites (and sexual confusions) of an age,” and adds that one of the key flaws” of Francis’s rule is “its retreat from a convincing ‘theology of the body’” – the theological philosophy developed by Pope St. John Paul II.

Sixth, Demos II said the global travel of a pope should be reduced, claiming the Church in Italy and throughout Europe is in crisis, and the next pontiff needs to offer his “presence, direct attention, and personal engagement.”

Seventh and finally, the document says Francis has “failed to bring cardinals together in regular consistories designed to foster genuine collegiality and trust among brothers,” and in the future, if the college is to serve its purposes, “the cardinals who inhabit it need more than a red zucchetto and a ring.”

“Today’s College of Cardinals should be proactive about getting to know each other to better understand their particular views regarding the Church, their local church situations, and their personalities – which impact their consideration of the next pope,” Demos II says.

“The Vatican Tomorrow” is the latest document trying to influence the election of the next pope. Francis turned 87 in December and has suffered minor health problems in the past year.

Interestingly, the text doesn’t touch on the Latin Mass, a major issue supported by the most conservative members of the clergy. It also doesn’t discuss the papal response to clerical abuse, which has dominated the press stories on the Vatican for the past few years.

It is predicted the next conclave could pit conservative cardinals – more inclined to the style of Francis’s predecessors Pope St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI – could try to reverse the more liberal style of Francis, who has appointed the vast majority of the current cardinals eligible to vote for his successor.

Both the more conservative and more liberal cardinals have quietly been speaking to each among themselves about what they want from the next pope.

In his document, Demos II says he has not disclosed his real name because “candor is not welcome, and its consequences can be unpleasant” under the present pontificate, “despite synodality’s decentralizing claims, among other things.”

However, traditionally cardinals are not supposed to discuss who they want as a successor of the present pope until after he has died – a practice more honored in the breach, especially in a pontiff’s later years.