Remaining Faithfully Catholic Near the End of the Francis Pontificate 

It’s a narrow road for faithful Catholics in the Francis pontificate; we must reject the spiritually cancerous belief that Francis is not the pope while resisting spiritually damaging teachings.

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

It has become evident to many Catholics around the world that the Francis pontificate has been a disappointment and even a disaster. There are more learned Catholics than myself who have meticulously catalogued the myriad of ways in which Pope Francis, from the beginning of his pontificate in 2013, has made statements and promoted pastoral practices that depart from Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and previous solidified teachings of the magisterium. 

“I want a mess,” the pope said a few months after his election regarding his plans to shake up the Church. Well, he got what he wanted. 

Off the top of my head, here are some of the bigger messes that Francis has made:  

Orthodox. Faithful. Free.

Sign up to get Crisis articles delivered to your inbox daily

Email subscribe inline (#4)

Characteristic of some of these messes is how unmerciful they are to those they are purportedly aimed at helping. They keep sinners locked in their sin while refusing to call them to repentance and redemption. These practices, far from loving the sinner, bar them from receiving salvific grace and close off Heaven to them, leaving them in spiritual darkness as they stumble to the abyss to be swallowed up. This is the opposite of being truly pastoral. It is the opposite of offering real mercy. 

In the face of all these messes, all of which are characterized by a departure from Catholic teaching and morality, one alarming trend I’ve noticed among Catholics who have been scandalized is to fall prey to the spiritually cancerous idea that Francis is somehow not the pope, that he is a usurper at best and an imposter at worst.

Some have even made calls for Catholics to “separate” themselves from Francis to remain “in Communion” with the Church. These sources claim to accurately present Catholicism while peddling these ideas that are, in essence, anti-Catholic because they attack the pastoral office of Peter—the rock—which has been instituted by Christ as belonging to the very foundation of the Catholic Church. I have seen firsthand the grave spiritual harm to those who subscribe to these ideas, resulting in some of them separating themselves from the Catholic Church and losing their faith. 

Many are currently being led by those who voice this idea into schism, leaving their wounded Mother, the Church, who has been kicked to the curb and is bleeding and broken, as they seek an alternative church created to their own liking which has been gutted of recent popes and councils. It is, of course, a false church of human origin. Satan’s diabolical ingenuity is that he has managed to pry souls away from the Church founded by Christ as it exists today by tempting them with distorted visions of the Church as she existed hundreds of years ago, when, according to the temptation, everything was “better” and there were “no problems.” 

Only the Serpent could be subtle enough to turn tradition into an ideology—traditionalism which trumps everything else—and use it to lead so many well-intentioned but unsuspecting Catholics out of the bosom of the Church. Satan did something similar with Scripture some time ago, turning it into an ideology—sola scriptura—that resulted in countless Catholics being dragged into the outer darkness as they left the bosom of Holy Mother Church. 

These sources mentioned above call into question the validity of Francis’ election, saying that it was rigged by a mafia of cardinals. Or, they point to errors in his documents and statements, claiming that by making these the pope has somehow stripped himself of his authority to sit on the chair of Peter. While Pope Francis may be a bad pope, he is certainly no usurper or imposter. A usurper is defined as someone who takes a position of power or importance illegally or by force. An imposter is someone who pretends to be someone else to deceive others. 

The fact is that Pope Francis was validly elected on March 13, 2013, after Pope Benedict’s resignation. How do we know this? Because not one single cardinal who elected Jorge Bergoglio, who would go on to take the name Francis, has ever contested the election results. Not one. All arguments for an invalid election run up against this solid brick wall: there is not one single cardinal who supports this thesis. 

It is the cardinals, the princes of the Church, who are the only ones who have any power and standing to contest the results of a papal election. Benedict, while he was still alive, certainly acknowledged on a few occasions that Francis was, in fact, the valid pope. Of all people, he would have been the first to cry foul had the election been invalid. 

The fact is, if Francis were somehow not the pope, this alone would create far more problems than it would solve since it would mean that the papacy has failed, there is no vicar of Christ on earth, and the promise of Christ when it comes to the Church, her leadership, and her doctrine prevailing until the end of time has been broken. No one who calls themselves Catholic can entertain this idea. The Church is indefectible by God’s grace; Satan will never be able to prevail against her (Matthew 16:18). 

Moreover, while the idea has been floated by some prominent Catholics earlier on in Francis’ pontificate that he has ceased being the pope from the moment he uttered such-and-such false teaching, the problem remains that there is no one above the pope who can officially make this declaration and have it be binding. No one on this earth is above the pope who can remove him from his office. Only God alone has the power to do this, usually via death. The pope, of course, could step down on his own accord, something that Francis doesn’t seem keen on doing. 

What this means is that Catholics, whether we like it or not, are stuck with Francis as the valid pope. The question remains, however, how do we remain faithful to the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church headed by Pope Francis as he nears the end of a disastrous pontificate? How do we remain faithful when our spiritual leader may be wielding his leadership in a way analogous to St. Peter, the first pope, who betrayed Christ at the moment it counted most when he said, “I do not know the man,” not once, but thrice? Yes, our Church has had a long history of popes who betrayed Christ, starting with the first one and not stopping there. 

First of all, Catholics must stick with the pope to remain within the bosom of the Church. Catholics can never separate themselves from the pope and somehow remain faithful to Christ and united to His Church. St. Ambrose of Milan, a fourth-century doctor of the Church who was instrumental in the conversion of St. Augustine, laid out this spiritual principle when he said, “Where Peter is, there is the Church.” One of the surest ways of knowing you remain united to the Church is because you are united to the visible head of the Church, the pope. 

Does anyone want to know where the Church founded by Christ is? Find Peter, and you will find the Church. Conversely, if one leaves Peter, one leaves the Church. And leaving the Church certainly puts one’s salvation in jeopardy. Just as no one was saved outside of the ark in the time of Noah, those leaving the barque of Peter, the Church, are putting themselves in grave peril. 

The Church is Christ’s. He birthed her out of His side with blood and water when He was pierced by a lance on the Cross. The Church is His bride. He will save His bride. Well-meaning Catholics must realize that it is not their job to save the Church. Jesus is the Savior! Jesus is certainly the one who will sustain His Church, having already died for her and purified her. It’s up to Jesus, in His good time, to save His Church—the Barque of Peter—from being swamped by the waves of heresy, abuse, cover-up, and hypocrisy that are threatening to sink her. “The disciples went and woke him, saying, ‘Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!’” (Matthew 8:25). We need to keep begging Jesus, “Lord, save your Church!”

How ought Catholics who love the Church and see her following her Lord in crucifixion hold a pope like Francis in their hearts? I believe that Catholics who wish to remain in communion with the Church must take the position of David in his relation to the bad King Saul when it comes to their relationship with Pope Francis. 

David, as a young boy, was anointed by the prophet Samuel to be the next king of Israel (Samuel 1:16) after the spirit of God had withdrawn from Saul because of the evil the king had committed. Saul had become a pretty disastrous king at this point. He was making a mess of things. He was even tormented by an evil spirit who had replaced the spirit of God in his life. 

When Saul realized that David had won the praise of the people and would be acclaimed as the next king instead of one of his sons, he attempted to kill David on numerous occasions. David had to flee for his life. David’s companions tried to convince the young warrior to slay Saul and be rid of this bad king and, by his hand, come into the kingship for which David had been anointed by God’s prophet. But David always refused, even when he had the king in his power in the cave or when he found him poorly guarded sleeping in a camp, saying that he would not put his hand against the “Lord’s anointed” for no one could do such a deed and be “guiltless.” 

David was operating on the principle that Saul, while still alive, was the “Lord’s anointed”—even though Saul was a bad king who was making a mess of things. David understood that no man had the authority to remove the Lord’s anointed from the office to which God had appointed him. David trusted that God would deal with Saul in God’s own way and in God’s own time. 

When Saul was defeated in battle and saw his sons slain before his eyes, he despaired. Saul asked a young man from the camp to slay him, which the young man did. When the young man told David about this, David first rent his clothes and wept before executing the man for killing the king. Before the execution, David chastised the young man, saying, “How is it you were not afraid to put forth your hand to destroy the Lord’s anointed?” 

When it comes to Pope Francis, our sentiment should be the same as David’s. Those who promote the idea that Francis is not the pope, that he is a usurper or imposter, are, I believe, raising their hand against the “Lord’s anointed.” A better path is to follow the example of those princes of the Church who are engaged in prayer campaigns for the purification of the Church. 

All this being said, Scripture nevertheless lays out a path for how to oppose an erring pope “to his face” while still respecting his office (Galatians 2:11). David certainly resisted Saul while respecting his office. In the final analysis, Catholics must respect that Francis is pope and allow the Lord to replace him when the good Lord sees fit.

For reasons which may be inscrutable at the time, God has allowed Francis to become head of His Church for God’s own designs and purposes. What is clear is that under the Francis pontificate, the swamp that exists in the Church and all the monsters that inhabit the swamp have brazenly manifested themselves. They have been emboldened by Francis to reveal themselves, no longer hiding in the murky waters to drag down unsuspecting souls. What this means is that a future pope who has been called by God to clean up the mess will know exactly who are the enemies within the Church, which will make his task of dealing with them all the easier. In other words, God may have allowed Francis to make a mess to aid in the future purification of the Church. 

Another silver lining in the Francis pontificate is that his mess has forced Catholics who want to be faithful to Christ and the Church to find out for themselves what the Church actually teaches practically on every subject. Francis making a mess has had the effect of awakening ordinary Catholics out of their slumber like no other pope has been able to do. This can only lead to a stronger and more faithful Church over time. 

In 2021, I had an email exchange with Bishop Athanasius Schneider about this distressing trend of Catholics abandoning the pope. He told me—in comments published here for the first time—that Catholics “must not allow themselves to be misled by sophist canonical arguments about the alleged invalidity of the pontificate of Pope Francis.”  Catholics “must not allow themselves to be misled by sophist canonical arguments about the alleged invalidity of the pontificate of Pope Francis.”

– Bishop Athanasius Schneider
Tweet This

“The schismatic person is one who refutes the Pope as a Pope, i.e. the papacy, or who refutes the validity of the current Pope, or who establishes his own parallel church without any canonical union with the Pope,” he added. Schneider reminded me that Catholics “have to be sober and have a supernatural view and great trust in God’s Providence and in His powerful intervention also in this disastrous pontificate.”

Yes, increasing our trust in God is the way to remain faithful during these confusing times. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths,” (Proverbs 3:5-6). Or, as St. Faustina Kowalska wrote in her diary, “The greater the darkness, the more complete our trust should be” (para. 357). In the meantime, as we wait on the Lord Jesus to save His Church and deal with the mess in His own way, at the acceptable time, some holy advice from the book of Lamentations is also helpful: “It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord” (3:26). 

Author

  • Pete Baklinski

    Pete Baklinski has a BA from Thomas Aquinas College and a Masters in Theology from the International Theological Institute. He is married to Erin and together they have eight children with one more on the way. He worked for ten years as a reporter and editor for a pro-life news organization. He now works as the communications director for a pro-life organization. He lives in Combermere, Ontario.

Editor's picks

Item added to cart.
0 items - $0.00

Orthodox. Faithful. Free.

Signup to receive new Crisis articles daily

Email subscribe stack
Share to...