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Ed. note: Below is an Op-Ed from the always very informative Fr. Pio Pace, a very wise, knowledgeable, and highly influential cleric, writing under a pen name, that appeared on the Rorate Caeli website. (see here). I am reproducing it without comment.
ROME: THE AGE OF EMPTINESS
Father Pio Pace
The entire world was able to see on their screens, when of the recent papal voyage to Sarajevo, that the pontifical cross, that had broken, was taped back with surgical tape: “A complete symbol!” said with irony the prelates of the pontifical entourage. Yes, a complete symbol. The Church of Peter, in the 21st century, awaits an encyclical…on the environment. It is bad for one or two persons to be alone in a car because that increases the greenhouse-effect gases, so saith the Magisterium of the Holy Catholic Church…
I name my piece after the essay, The Age of Emptiness (in Italian, L’era del vuoto, Luni, 1995), written by the way with a completely different purpose than mine by French thinker Gilles Lipovetsky. But it seems to me to express well the impression that everyone shares today, more or less, about the current pontiff, now that the stunning “state of grace” from which he benefited for a time has decreased and that the crowds at the Wednesday general audiences go back to normal levels.
An article by Julius Müller-Meininger, in Die Zeit (Helmut Schmidt’s paper, which is somewhat like our Repubblica, but by the Rhine) on April 30, 2015, Jetzt hat es auch ihn erwischt, expresses well what the journalists who were most favorable to Francis now feel: “What does he want, after all?” Müller-Meininger, who cruelly remarks, by the way, that the inconsistency of the pontifical sayings are each time more openly mocked (“To be sick, is to have an experience of our fragility”), explains why the media are unsettled regarding the pope. He quotes Italian transsexual activist Vladimir Luxuria: “I do not understand him. He follows at the present time the policy of the carrot and the stick. In the beginning, the words are of opening, and in the present, an attack against gender ideology. Francis is in an impasse. I am disappointed.”
The impasse is that of a moral opening in a liberal sense that one must, in the end, either satisfy or deny. The matter that particularly concerns Müller-Meiningen is that of the proposal made by the French government of naming Laurent Stéfanini ambassador before the Holy See. A man who is very competent in religious affairs, a practicing Catholic, but a homosexual. As other ambassadors before the Holy See and, alas, as members of the diplomatic corps of the Holy See itself… Except that Stéfanini does not live scandalously as a couple. He is simply known for having bad tendencies to which he may perhaps — only his confessor could say it, and would never say it — fall at times.
Now, against his aides at the Secretariat of State, who remarked to him that there are Muslim, or Communist ambassadors before the Holy See, or those who are frequent goers to establishments of debauchery, etc., and that they were nevertheless accepted as ambassadors, Francis decided, him alone and all by himself, that Stéfanini would not receive the agrément by the Apostolic See. It is undoubtedly his personal animosity against François Hollande, that equals that he feels against Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, the president of Argentina, that explains this fit of authoritarianism, classic for him: he is convinced that François Hollande named Stéfanini out of anticlerical spite. Which is not impossible – but at the same moment in which he has this attack of “rigorism”, the same Francis went back on the ban of funds being given by the Holy See to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), a ban decided by John Paul II due to the strong campaigns in favor of contraception organized or funded by UNICEF.
It is true that Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, Chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences and the mind begind this rapprochement with UNICEF is one of the Friends of the Pope — which, in today’s Rome, which has become more of a Court than ever, allows all things and covers all sins. Also a Friend of the Pope, the Secretary of the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, Franciscan José Rodríguez Carballo, who was Superior of the Franciscans from 2003 to 2013, time during which stunning financial affairs brought the Order to the brink of bankruptcy. Also a Friend of the Pope, Monsignor Battista Ricca, in charge of all great priestly houses in Rome (via della Scrofa, via della Traspontina, Casa Santa Marta…), named prelate of the Vatican Bank, and who had left a scandalous reputation as diplomat in Uruguay. Also a Friend of the Pope, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, President of the Council for the Family, who has been placed under police investigation for criminal conspiracy, obstruction, fraud against the municipality of Narni, abuse of funds and embezzlement during the time when he was bishop of Terni. “Who am I to judge?”
The most annoying point in all of this is that we cannot see a clear line of government. One has the impression only of rehearsals — to avoid saying stubbornness — of a man who, despite his age, exercises his authority with passion, delivering decisions in all directions. How to explain, for instance, the apparent positive tone to the Society of Saint Pius X, and, on the other hand, the no to the Franciscans of the Immaculate? The activity is loud yet muddled, and the great announcements end up lost in the sand: no one still believes in an actual reform of the Curia, considering the totally inefficient way in which the group of nine cardinals in charge of it works. Even with more reason when we hear its chairman, the indescribable cardinal Maradiaga, announce for instance that all the courts of the Apostolic See could be united in a single body…
Under these conditions, the October Synod could well seem like an Epiphany…of emptiness. It is very likely that Francis has already found out that the theses of which Cardinal Kasper had been one of the greatest champions, could not lead to a modification of the doctrine of the Church without provoking significant divisions. Some think that he believed, in his somewhat impressionistic theological way, that formulas could be found to open the door to a permission, in a certain number of cases, granted to divorced and remarried persons, to accede to the Sacraments of the Church, by playing mercy against “rigorism”, “pastoral” against dogma.
But it is much more probable that the Pope measured precisely, since the beginning, what he should expect essentially from this immense undertaking: noise, a lot of noise, a huge amount of noise. Much noise for nothing. Because, if the Synod purely and simply confirms the traditional doctrine of the Church, the image of a pontificate that should lead to great changes will collapse. If, on the contrary, the Synod pleases the Kasperites, it will provoke a non possumus by a considerable number of cardinals and bishops. Well, then, the bishop will say nothing, with all the adequate balances to do so. Therefore, we will have had two assemblies of the Synod of Bishops, a considerable mass of ecclesiastical literature, of declarations, of press statements in all senses, a simmering not known since the last Council — all for nothing. For nothing? Except that the teaching of the Church in the name of the Gospel is left practically silent. Except that the sheep are left without direction: on the ground, the priests who wish to do so, give the Sacraments calmly to adulterous and homosexual couples, and even bless them in church.
We can then speak of a pontificate of revelation, of completion. 2015 is the year of the jubilee of the Council, that ended in 1965. Have you noticed that we do not mention the Council in Rome anymore? This is undoubtedly because, 50 years later, the Second Vatican Council is now fully realized, incarnated.