The Franciscan Stall

January 1, 2021

Since 2013 Catholic pundit after Catholic pundit has become disillusioned with Pope Francis. While their authors don't express any overt longing, at least two books looking ahead to the next pope have recently been published.

One holdout, and author of one of the next-pope books, has been my fellow-parishioner, Dr. George Weigel. Throughout Francis' scoldings of faithful Catholics, the off-the-cuff and homiletic noise leaking from his mouth, his putting his name on encyclicals that could have been written by U.N. cookie-pushers, his selling out of Chinese Catholics, his aiding and abetting of the McCarrick Gang and Italian organized crime in the Vatican, Dr. Weigel has reminded his readers more than once of Jorge Bergoglio's leadership of a 2007 synod in Apparecida, Brazil and of the future pope's role in authoring that synod's final report.

Weigel, in his 2019 book, The Irony of Modern Catholic History Etc. (1) describes the Apparecida Document as "as vibrant an expression of evangelical Catholicism as had been written in the wake of John Paul II's summons to the New Evangelization."(2) The renowned scholar further took Francis' first encyclical Evengelii Gaudium as further proof of the pontiff's continuance of the St. John Paul II/Benedict XVI ("JPII/BXVI") project of engaging the modern world with a Christ-centered Evangelical Catholicism.

That is why it was a surprise, in reading near the conclusion of The Irony of Modern Catholic History Etc., to run across the subhead, "The Franciscan Stall." Turning the page to this made for a pleasant and unexpected encounter, like turning a corner and running into a pretty lady friend wearing her Ginger Rogers tilt hat and an "I vote Pro-Life" button.

In "The Franciscan Stall," Dr. Weigel eyes two major obstacles that Francis has allowed to be plopped in front of JPII/BXVI's pathway for the church in the Third Millennium: 1) the insertion in Francis' Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, of dissenting Catholics' opinion that human experience and understanding have moved on since Jesus' and St. Paul's teaching, respectively, on marriage and receiving the eucharist; thus the church no longer has to follow Jesus or Paul; 2) the view that Catholic church is a federation of national synods (say, that of Germany) wherein each national synod can make up its own rules, thus resulting in "a Catholicism in what [is] deemed true in Poland [is] not deemed true in Germany."(3).

Dr. Weigel does not mention other Franciscan distractions and vandalisms: the tedious revisiting of the settled issues of married priests and the ordination of women; the obsession with climate change; the gutting of St. John Paul II's Institute For Marriage And Family Studies.

But is Pope Francis and the mess he has made really sole cause of the stall?

Mutter, mutter, mill, mill

Looking back to the year 2000, it seems to me that the great reforms begun late in the last century started lagging before Bergoglio's election in 2013. We were charging across a field bearing the banners of Fides et Ratio, Theology of The Body, The Institute For Marriage And Family Studies, numerous other initiatives. Then this heavily-armed wave of inspired Catholic humanity slowed. Then it stopped. Then the troops just stood there, milling and muttering. About what: Joy.

The papacies of St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI, as Dr. Weigel wrote, should be understood as a "continuous 35-year-long effort..." (4). Both men's pontificates were about action, reform, teaching, augmenting the wisdom of the church for the years beginning with "2."

The charismatic John Paul II traveled the world, inspiring what is now known as "the John Paul II generation." He published 14 encyclicals and issued apostolic constitutions such as Ex Corde Ecclesiae (regarding Catholic universities). He oversaw the promulgation of the first catechism since 1566. He expounded his Theology of The Body which in God's good time, will restore sanity and morality to attitudes about sex in the world. He reformed seminaries which is why most abuse cases in the news today are not recent, but decades old. He inspired new Catholic schools -- likely more than the market can handle -- faithful to Catholic identity and teaching.

The saint's Institute For Marriage And Family Studies was wrecked under Francis, but not before its worldwide branches dispatched thousands of young men and women, including priests and religious, carrying John Paul II's teachings for the Third Millenium.

The likely-reluctant pontiff Benedict, too shy, too modern-priestly and perhaps too ill to take on the McCarrick and Italian gangs, delivered lectures and wrote the Jesus of Nazareth trilogy. Every Catholic should read at least a couple of Benedict's surprisefully accessible works.

The man who should be the next pope, Cardinal Robert Sarah, declared that Benedict, post-abdication, is an "...extraordinary beacon....He is at the head of the great cohort of contemplatives who mysteriously carry the world. The pope emeritus contrasts contemplation and prayer with petty earthly ambitions. Humbly, he bears witness to the divine absolute." (5)

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In the Nihil-Obstat-bestowed volume of private revelation, In Sinu Jesu (6), written several years before Cardinal Sarah's assessment, Jesus mentions Benedict a few times, telling the anonymous Benedictine monk "Listen well to all [Benedict's] teachings. Receive them and make them known, for he is My messenger and My victim-priest in the midst of a world that closes its ears to My word and that still derides the mystery of the cross."(7)

Focusing on evangelization and the heart (core) of the church, Saint John Paul and future saint Benedict's papacies were about prayer and work, including study. They were about ora et labora, "uniting work with the development of The Kingdom of God," as JPII wrote in Laborem Exercens V, 27 (8).

Yes, it seems to me that this new springtime, this growth faded some time during Benedict's papacy. My opinion is that it stalled because despite the efforts of both popes, the Catholic church is still a disordered church that puts relationships first, before all else, including right and truth, including core beliefs, including achievement, including standards, including even mission.

If Catholics are frustrated that priests never preach the hard truths about abortion or the Real Presence being the center of our faith, it is because of this culture of putting relationships first. The church cherishes relationships and unity so inordinately it will compromise to establish them or avoid giving offense that may end them.

Some call this "The Church of Nice." A few call it a "feminized church" (9) because a natural female tendency is to put relationships first.

The problem with chronically putting relationships before commandments and standards is that eventually, the commandments and standards cease to matter at all.

Pope Francis Fiat

Photo by Neal J. Conway. Copyright.

Jesus, as one would expect, knew that the prioritizing of relationships would be a recurring problem in His church. This is why he seems to dismiss the strongest of all familial relationships (10), concluding in Matthew 12:50 that far more important than maintaining such ties is doing the will of the father.

Even the two great popes themselves were not totally immune from the disorder. No one could imagine any recent popes, like popes of old, calling for use of force against the church's enemies. We've just been told again: We're all brothers.(11)

We are laying the plan of a mouse if that plan for preaching to all nations amounts to going forth, handing out joy pills.

In additional to tactical strategies of offense and defense (which it is unlikely to get) what the church needs now is a strong core, a stout heart, a sturdy castle. What it needs are strong priests, strong families, strong parishes, strong schools, strong monasteries and strong sisters' conventual communities, all drawing their strength and inspiration from the Mass as source and summit, from the nourishing real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

However, it is no surprise that in these sad times, that what the Church of Relationships has been offering people since the early 2000s is not work, not achievement, not discipline, but a feeling, that word I mentioned earlier: Joy.

Unimpressed by joy

There is such a thing as genuine joy. I feel joy when the sunset chalks its fleeting pastels on the view from my tower window. I feel joy at a project completed and well done. I feel joy at occasional signs that God is working in my life.

But that life is still a valley of tears. Even with Joseph, Mary and Jesus' help, I am in a constant battle with my sinfulness. A faith whose contemporary members don't have much use for men is a depressing, lonely perseverance for a single guy.

"If we take happiness from God’s hand, must we not take sorrow too?" (Job 2:10).

"Expect me...also to wound you. Unless I wound will be incapable of understanding the attacks of the enemy and of bearing witness to me in the midst of darkness and tribulation." (12).

The joy that Catholics have been hawking is sold as something that will fill that valley. They turn the church into a Street of Dreams, no surprise since a lot of the joy-pushers seem to be addicted themselves, living from one fix of joy (and hope) to another.

This Joy doesn't prevent six people from leaving the Catholic church for every one who joins it. In The Day is Now Far Spent (p. 317) Cardinal Sarah says, "If our contemporaries desert our churches, it is because they arrive with a desire for God and someone tries to satisfy them with good feelings."

Unbelieving human beings seem to be able to get along fine without a steady infusion of joy. They accept the shortfall. Many make their lives complicated with divorces and multiple sexual partners. Many harm themselves through their choices. They don't seem to mind the self-inflicted wounds and chaos to the point of thinking that there must be a better way to live. They can always blame others. They are, in many cases, materially comfortable. They are entertained. They are gratified. Plenty of advertizing promises them joy. They are shallow enough that it delivers.

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So how does an evangelizer reach them? That is a matter of unpredictable circumstances, of the untrackable flights of The Holy Spirit and of those varied and not-uniformly-distributed gifts that St. Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians 12. We are laying the plan of a mouse if that plan for preaching to all nations amounts to going forth, handing out joy pills.

There are better ways to spend our evangelization time. Before sallying forth we must look to a fortress that is sorely in disrepair. That is why we must rebuild its towers: priests and religious, families, parishes, schools, contemplative houses.

"Who remembers the documents by Paul VI or by John Paul II?" laments Cardinal Sarah with a touch of melodrama, "Who even reads them?" (13).

Some Catholics remember. The John-Paul II generation is now in its prime. If its members don't commit suicide by martyrdom, if they don't allow themselves to be slaughtered, thus surrendering centuries of souls, if they carry out His desires in security and peace, if they recover the delight in Fides et Ratio and Jesus of Nazareth and get to prayer and work, if they make the Eucharist central to all, Jesus promises miracles of evangelization and charity.

"[His] Eucharistic Face will shine over this new hour of building and of work for [His] glory...."(14)


(1) Weigel, George, The Irony of Modern Catholic History: How the Church Rediscovered Itself and Challenged the Modern World to Reform, Basic Books, New York, 2019.

(2)Id. p. 269.

(3)Id. p. 274.

(4)Id. p. 195.

(5) Sarah, Robert Card. in conversation with Nicholas Diat, translated by Michael J. Miller, The Day Is Now Far Spent, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 2019. p. 121.

(6) A Benedictine Monk, In Sinu Jesu: When Heart Speeks to Heart: The Journal of a Priest at Prayer, Angelico Press, Kettering, OH, 2016.

(7)In Sinu Jesu, p. 164.


(9) See Podles, Leon J., The Church Impotent: The Feminization of Christianity, Spence Publishing Co., Dallas, TX, 1999, in which the author discusses the history of feminization and the manifestaton of masculinity and femininity not only in faith, but in human development and cultures. Contrary to what some argue, the feminized church is not a result of The Second Vatican Council or of a gay cabal within the church. The feminized church has been developing for centuries since the Middle Ages. It has origins in the concept of the church as The Bride of Christ. "God has no only-begotten daughters," Podles wrote on p.87 "...There is only one pattern for both men and women to be conformed to, that of the Son [the masculine]."

(10) Matthew 12:46-50, Mark 3:31-35, Luke 8:19-21, Luke 14:26, Matthew 8: 21-22, Luke 9:59-62

(11) Pope Francis' Encyclical Fratelli Tutti, which Archbishop Carlo Vigano says "represents...the emptiness of a withered heart, of a blind man deprived of supernatural sight, who gropingly thinks he can give an answer that he himself first ignores." Viganò on Pope’s ‘brotherhood’ encyclical: ‘A manifesto in the service of the New World Order’ LifeSite News, Oct. 14, 2020.

(12) In Sinu Jesu, p. 161.

(13) Sarah, The Day Is Now Far Spent, p. 111.

(14) In Sinu Jesu, p.161.

For Further Reading

Learning From The Mistakes of Great Popes

I Didn't Know About McCarrick -- Why It's Plausible

About Neal J. Conway