Pope Francis’ fluctuating discourse—some call it the “liquid magisterium”—never stops disturbing the Catholic faithful. On December 27, 2020, on his website, the Italian journalist Marcello Veneziani wondered about “the mystery of the Pope and his duplicity.” Here are some analyses by academics and Vaticanists in an attempt to pinpoint this mystery a little better, in three concentric circles.
Moral Compromise and Doctrinal Resignation
The third circle widens the perspective by offering a sociological and philosophical analysis.
A reader of Aldo Maria Valli's site, Mario Grifone, last November used the sociological concept of the “Overton window” in an attempt to understand how progressive ideology works in the Church, particularly since Francis’ pontificate.
He wrote: “In essence, the Overton window is a sociological model, developed by an American sociologist [Joseph Overton, 1960-2003—Ed. note], for whom it is named, according to which behavior, which at a certain point in history is considered impossible by the majority of citizens or peoples, can be transformed into legal and normalized behavior, while at the same time transforming the majority of opponents into a minority that is first mocked, then silenced, then censored, and finally persecuted. The result is achieved in several stages: impossible, possible, acceptable, reasonable, popular, and finally legal.”
And to apply this sociological model to contemporary “societal” developments: “The game has worked perfectly with divorce, abortion, and homosexual unions. And when it comes to gender, we’re almost there: it’s currently in the popular phase, waiting to be legalized.”
Mario Grifone then tries to understand the meaning of these developments: “In fact, divorce, abortion, homosexual unions, and gender all have as common denominator this idea of sexuality which can be summarized in the formula “I do what I prefer, and no one should interfere.”
Faced with this moral revolution, Rome’s “liquid magisterium” is doctrinally ineffective: “The current pontificate, instead of giving clear signals, is extremely confusing. If someone like me, unquidam de populo, an ordinary person, understands what is going on, I wonder why my Pastor and his men at the top of the hierarchy are acting like nothing has happened.”
And to conclude on a note of hope despite everything, spes contra spem: “I said that the majority, which has become a minority, is first derided, then reduced to silence, then censored, and finally persecuted, and this is exactly what is happening. At the moment, we are still in the censorship phase, but we are rapidly approaching the persecution phase.”
“However, I am convinced that, as in centuries past, God will raise up one or more saints of the temperament of Francis of Assisi, Dominic, and Ignatius. Saints who can give a powerful turn at the helm.”
The Law of Moral Compromise
Also last November, in the National Catholic Register, there appeared an analysis by Benjamin D. Wiker which did not appeal to the Overton window, but to the Law of Moral Compromise, in an attempt to explain the erosion of the foundations of Christian civilization.
He said: “What yesterday was considered immoral, and today is treated as moral under limited circumstances, will tomorrow be accepted under all circumstances. The Law of Moral compromise is not an abstract theoretical notion, but derived from what has actually happened in the West as we have become slowly secularized (aided significantly by Christian compromise on moral issues).”
“The law is as follows: ‘What yesterday was considered barbaric, immoral, and unimaginable, and is now considered morally acceptable as an act of charity under limited circumstances, will tomorrow be accepted in all circumstances as a fundamental human right, considered part of the general advance of civilized society, and unimaginable to live without.’”
And he recalls: “It is the pope’s solemn duty as the leader of the Catholic Church to state the Church’s teaching clearly, personally, and publicly, especially in times of confusion (and especially if he himself is in any way the cause of that confusion). To do anything less is to compromise the moral teaching of the Church. And that brings us back to the Law of Moral Compromise.”
For Benjamin D. Wiker, a review of the transformation of the pagan world by Christianity is essential to understand the current situation: “To understand the Law we must first realize the great tension that was (and is) caused by the Church’s evangelization of pagan culture.”
Contraception, abortion and infanticide were all accepted in pagan Rome, as were pedophilia, homosexuality, and even homosexual marriage. Christianity morally rejected what the Romans accepted. The Church’s multi-century evangelical efforts morally and legally transformed a pagan culture of death into a Christianized culture of life.”
“But that set up a great tension between the upward pull of the Church’s high moral standards and the ever-present downward pull of sin. Simply put, it is easier to slide back into a kind of paganism than engage in the struggle of maintaining high moral ground, and compromise is the usual way that such sliding occurs. Secularization, in de-Christianizing society, leads to a kind of moral re-paganization.”
Further on he adds: “I imagine readers can see the Law of Moral Compromise at work, playing out first among those diligently secularizing (i.e., de-Christianizing) the culture, and then among Christians who believe that changing times demand moral compromise. In accord with the Law, the nows keep turning into yesterdays, and the tomorrows into nows. Lines that no one would think of crossing are soon blurred, and then erased.”
And to apply the Law of Moral Compromise to a recent fact: “This brings us to the great cloud of moral confusion stirred up by Pope Francis’ statement affirming civil unions for same-sex couples ‘as an act of charity under limited circumstances”(see FSSPX.News of November 2, 2020): “What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they [homosexuals] are legally covered.”
“But this statement goes directly against one issued in 2003 under John Paul II (via Cardinal Ratzinger’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith): ‘Respect for homosexual persons cannot lead in any way to approval of homosexual behavior or to legal recognition of homosexual unions.’”
Benjamin D. Wiker specifies: “Pope Francis’ suggested legal compromise is set forth in a secularized society that has already legalized homosexual unions as actual marriages (not mere civil unions), and is on its way to what (we assume) is unimaginable even to the most liberal Catholics. The Pope’s legal compromise is a line drawn in the sand, and the sand was already shifting before he drew it.”
Hence this logical conclusion: “But once a little compromise is allowed, then the Law of Moral Compromise never rests. It certainly won’t rest with Pope Francis’s limited affirmation of two-person, same-sex civil unions. Why should it?”
“Fairly soon, either he or his successor will be faced with a secular society that has moved beyond homosexual marriages to the legal recognition of polygamy and polyamory. And precisely what legal compromise should be allowed for transgender couples?”
“The very simple truth is this: the only way to resist the Law of Moral Compromise is not to compromise, even and especially when it appears to be an act of charity. That is the most difficult task for any pope, but it is the very task that defines the papacy and the magisterium.”
According to Stefano Fontana, in the Nuova Bussola Quotidiana of January 3, the tragedy is that “Pope Francis is no longer in the conciliar phase nor even in the post-conciliar phase. He is located in the post-post-conciliar phase or, if you will, in the phase of a Third Vatican Council not convened (many had foreseen and asked for it, like Giuseppe Alberigo [representative of the School of Bologna, progressive author of History of Vatican II (1959-1965), 5 vol., English ed.,Orbis/Peeters. Editor's note] and those who in 1977 met at the University of Notre Dame, in South Bend, Indiana, precisely to establish the program for a Vatican III).”
Therefore, we can explain that “the Church works with everyone, even with the UN, which wants universal abortion in its objectives for 2030. This seems to be Francis’ position, which is understandable only with the accentuation of Christianity as a praxis of mercy (general or all-out) to the detriment of its doctrinal evaluation.”
There remains Mario Grifone’s hope as expressed above: “I am convinced that, as in centuries past, God will raise up one or more saints of the temperament of Francis of Assisi, Dominic, and Ignatius. Saints who can give a powerful turn at the helm.” At the helm of the ship of the Church which Cardinal Ratzinger admitted in 2005 was “taking on water from all sides.”