Regardless of where one falls on the Ideological-Theological Spectrum of Self-Identified Catholics, pretty much everyone realizes that there’s something rather different about Pope Francis.
Of course, opinions vary considerably as to whether this represents a gift to be celebrated or a burden to be suffered, but the bottom line is that when it comes to the conciliar popes, even non-Catholics realize that one of these men is not like the others.
The essence of this difference is, to be sure, greater than the sum total of those personal preferences that have come to define this pope – his manner of dress, his choice in cars and places of residence, his casual speech, etc. – as these are but symptoms of that which makes Francesco unique.
So, what exactly is it about Pope Francis that makes him so different?
In short, he has not Catholicity.
Phrased another way, Francis gives little to no indication of possessing, in the core of his being, an awareness born of a truly Catholic character. His worldview – from his sense for the reality of the human condition to his understanding of the mission of the Church, and even his comprehension of Jesus Christ, His identity and His place in society – is not the product of unadulterated Catholicism. In fact, I doubt very seriously that the pope himself would even argue the point.
Now, to be clear, I’m not saying that the pope isn’t subjectively Catholic; much less am I suggesting that he isn’t even pope at all; I’m simply articulating that which any honest, well-informed, and even disinterested observer can see for himself:
Objectively speaking, Jorge Bergoglio’s fundamental frame of reference, as consistently demonstrated throughout the duration of his pontificate, appears to be informed by something other than that which is reasonably understood as being properly Catholic.
I’ll leave it for others to quibble over what precisely does inform the pope’s frame of reference. For my part, if it were a wine I’d describe it as earthy yet simple, with a slightly Judeo-Christian bouquet; not terrible complex, highly acidic and tart, often bitter, especially when paired with tradition, and in all cases finishing with strong notes of syncretism.
In any case, however one chooses to describe that which uniquely animates Francis, the point is it’s not purely Catholic.
Sure, his defenders can point to moments of Catholic clarity. Big deal. I can honestly say that an antique clock that hasn’t functioned in many years is a magnificent time piece twice a day, provided one glances at it at just the right moment. I’m talking about the preponderance of those things that seem to reveal what makes Francis Francis.
Think about it: If, at any time prior to 1960, a “fictional” movie were made portraying the reality of the present pontificate, Catholics and non-Catholics alike would dismiss it as laughably unrealistic. Why? Because all too frequently, Francis doesn’t speak like a Catholic, behave like a Catholic, or give evidence of even thinking like a Catholic; at least not as Catholics have spoken, behaved and thought for the last two thousand years.
Of course, we can say this about every Roman Pontiff who came after “the Good Pope John” naively opened the windows of the Church to the world, but all of them, apart from Pope Francis, exhibited at least some fundamental awareness that Hell had managed to break loose in the Catholic Church.
Paul VI, for instance, smelled the “smoke of Satan;” John Paul II discerned a “silent apostasy,” and Benedict XVI decried “arbitrary deformations” in the sacred liturgy.
Each one of them, in other words, seemed to understand that the Church had become too worldly; whereas Pope Francis appears to believe that she hasn’t become nearly worldly enough. And why? Because he lacks the baseline Catholic character that his predecessors, in spite of their own modernist tendencies, still managed to possess in some degree.
Perhaps this is a function of Francis being the first pope who clerically came of age entirely in the post-conciliar era.
Having entered the Society of Jesus just seven months before the death of Pope Pius XII, Jorge Bergoglio was ordained just eighteen days before 1970:
– After mutiny had been declared in the face of Humanae Vitae
– After Catholic academics and clerics had virtually filed for divorce from the sacred Magisterium with the Land-O-Lakes Statement
– After Paul VI had suppressed the Oath Against Modernism, and
– After the promulgation of Missale Romanum for the Novus Ordo Missae.
While every one of his papal predecessors had at least some clerical grounding in the Church pre-Vatican II, however latent its influence may have been, Jorge Bergoglio ascended to the Chair of St. Peter with no such base to call home; he is a product of the rebellion through and through.
Now, this is not to suggest that the Holy Father is a victim of circumstance with no choice in the matter; he certainly does have a choice and the Lord will sort all of that out in due time. Rather, it is simply to speculate as to the underlying causes for the sad and unfortunately obvious state of present day affairs:
Pope Francis has not Catholicity.
One is not like the others, but they are surprisingly similar all the same.
I’ve been saying this all along. He is not Catholic; or put it another way, if he were the face of Catholicism back when I first became interested in the faith, I would have run the other way.