Today is the 10th anniversary of the election of Jorge Bergoglio to the papacy. It’s customary on anniversaries to look back and reflect on the years spent together, but my mom also told me if I can’t say something nice, I shouldn’t say anything at all, so I’m not sure what to do today. I guess I’ll ignore mom.
The blunt reality is that the papacy of Francis, by any Catholic measure, has been a disaster. It’s not that he hasn’t at times done some good acts or spoken some good words; it’s that the overall thrust of his pontificate has been one of confusion, political ideology, and scandal.
In the first year of his papacy Francis uttered the infamous words, “Who am I to judge?” and ever since then he has done far more to confuse the faithful than confirm them. While popesplainers have created a cottage industry trying to explain why the plain meaning of Francis’s words are not his actual meaning, most reasonable people have understood that he means what he says, even when what he says makes little sense. Further, his individual statements are not spoken in a vacuum: while one might be able interpret each of his more troublesome statements in a fully Catholic sense if we squint enough, when taken as a whole over ten years, it’s clear that Francis wishes to undermine many of the practices—and even teachings—Catholics have held dear for centuries.
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
Sign up to get Crisis articles delivered to your inbox daily
There’s one thing, however, about which the pope is not confused: his political agenda. Pope Francis has turned the Vatican essentially into a political NGO. While every pope rightly should comment on politics, the office of the papacy isn’t to advocate for the latest United Nations initiative or World Economic Forum plan. It’s to proclaim the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ as found in the Catholic Church. Yet Francis seems to use his moral authority not to urge people to convert to Catholicism (in fact, he appears to abhor conversions), but to push the latest globalist political agenda, such as combating climate change or immigration reform. By associating himself—and thus the Catholic Church—with these worldly goals, he diminishes the ability of the Church to rise above political differences to point to a spiritual path to salvation.
And while the media—particularly Catholic media—want to ignore it, this papacy has been rife with scandal. Beyond the scandal of Francis’s own confusing words, there are the multitude of scandals involving abusive prelates and priests who have received preferential treatment if they are ideologically aligned with Francis. The public revelation of former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick as a monster seriously undermined Francis’s stated goal to clean up the Church. Here was a man who was known as a predator by many high-ranking Catholics—including the pope himself—yet he was placed in the “inner circle” by Francis early in his pontificate.
Countless other scandals have littered the past 10 years, but the most recent one regarding Fr. Marko Rupnik, S.J. might be the most troubling. The accusations against Rupnik are shocking, and the fact that he seems to still enjoy favor at the Vatican in spite of those accusations reveal a deeply dysfunctional Curia. Combine the Vatican’s inaction when it comes to Rupnik with its jihad against traditional Catholics and you have a recipe for a Rome in shambles.
Confusion, political ideology, and scandal have been our continual companions the past 10 years, and there’s little reason to believe that will change while this pope still reigns. Some Catholics attempt to explain these problems away (or even claim they are good things!); other Catholics try their best to ignore them. Sadly, many Catholics have broken communion with the Catholic Church, for atheism/agnosticism, Orthodoxy, or sedevacantism. While each person is responsible for his own decisions, Pope Francis will also have to answer for these defections on his day of particular judgement.
For my part, I still see hope in the midst of these problems. If nothing else, the misadventures of Pope Francis have allowed Catholics to more deeply understand the papacy, both its authority and its limitations. While many orthodox Catholics might have lived in a state of blissful hyperpapalism under John Paul II and Benedict XVI, Francis has reminded us that the true head of the Church is Jesus Christ, and his Vicar is not guaranteed to be faithful to Him in everything he does.
Further, times of trial, such as we live in now, are the best times for growing in holiness. It’s widely accepted that the best way to physical fitness is to put stress on your body in various ways, whether through weight-lifting, running, fasting, or other strenuous activities. Likewise, spiritual fitness only comes through stress as well: being pushed to choose the Lord in spite of temptations to leave him. In an era of a troublesome pontificate, we must decide to follow Christ and cling to him in spite of the confusion, political ideology, and scandal that currently emanates from Rome.