The Ecclesiology and Politics of Pope Francis on His Return from Greece

December 16, 2021

Pope Francis's trip to Cyprus and Greece was marked by a renewed emphasis on the issue of migrants and ecumenism with the Orthodox world. On the return flight, the Sovereign Pontiff responded, as usual, to journalists' questions by improvising and attacking Catholic doctrine.

Almost all of the Pope's statements to reporters on this flight left them off the record, to the point that some of them are difficult to comment on. Here are a few of them, among the most remarkable for their departure from sound doctrine or common sense.

A statement bordering on heresy is thrown out in the middle of a response. Besides the usual praise of the Orthodox synod model (which Catholics would have obviously forgotten until Paul VI), Francis adds a detail that is reminiscent of Anglican synods, according to what the self-proclaimed Archbishop of Canterbury told Vatican media a few weeks ago.

The English prelate had indeed recalled how, in their experience, the synod always included the intervention of the laity. And this is how Pope Francis said, almost unexpectedly in relation to the question: “On the synodal aspect: yes, we are one flock, that is true. And to make this division - clergy and laity - is a functional division, yes, of qualification, but there is a unity, a single flock.”

We are now accustomed to the egalitarian conception of the “people of God” from which “ministries” spring, as expressed in Lumen Gentium and the new canon law. Pope Francis goes directly to the sources of both, using terms quite analogous to those of Martin Luther in his “Letter to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation”:

“No one should be intimidated by this distinction [between clergy and laity, editor's note], for the good reason that all Christians really belong to the ecclesiastical state: there is no difference between them, except that of the function … ”

We are obviously in concepts diametrically opposed to those of the Council of Trent.

Following a tradition established beginning with John Paul II, Pope Francis apologized to the Orthodox for the abuses they allegedly suffered at the hands of the Roman Church. What is curious is that the Pope informs us that he also apologized for facts which - in his own words - he did not know, at the simple request of Hyeronimus, the Archbishop of Athens, without no other information.

The Pope therefore apologized because some Greek Catholics, at the time of the wars of independence against the Turks, were not in favor of the national struggle (probably because they feared discrimination from an Orthodox nation more than from the Ottoman government itself).

That the Pope feels compelled to apologize not only for the actions of his former predecessors, but even for the purely political stance of some Catholics, borders on the fantastic.

If the Syllabus of Pius IX condemned those who said that the separation of the Eastern Orthodox was due to “the excessive arbitrariness of the Roman Pontiffs,” Pope Francis is now ready to make the Catholics guilty of all the evils of the Eastern Orthodox.

In any case, he informs us that the unity of the churches does not necessarily have to come from theology, but from working together, citing as an example Sweden, where Catholics and Lutherans work together in a single charitable organization. As for theologians, let them argue: unity in truth is reserved for the hereafter. In the meantime, he and his heretical brothers are united to “work and pray together.”

Reread the encyclical Mortalium animos of Pius XI for a detailed condemnation of such a view of relations with non-Catholics. The complete reading of this (short) letter from Pope Pius XI is a necessary treasure in these times of confusion about the true doctrine of Christ and of the Church.

Journalists also asked the Pope for clarification on his claims about the decline in democracy in Europe. The Pope begins by asserting that democracy - understood as European liberal democracy, condemned as such by the Church on several occasions - is a treasure that must be preserved.

As for the dangers, the Pope could have referred to the authoritarian trend and obvious abuses of power that Western governments unscrupulously allowed themselves with the excuse of the pandemic. But the Pope is making reference to “populism” which he directly compares to Nazism.

He then also denounces, citing Robert Hugh Benson's Lord of the World (a book he holds dear), a world government that levels everything, another enemy of democracy. It remains a great mystery that a man who praised the European Union shortly before and enthusiastically participates in world government initiatives on climate change, like a president of a parliament of religions alongside the UN, can speak thus.

If he had read Robert Hugh Benson's novel better, Pope Francis could have been inspired by the two pontiffs who appear there, firmly proclaiming the kingship of Christ and of the Roman Church in the face of the universal government of an antichrist, fighting the world head-on, without the slightest liberal compromise.

The Pope was also questioned about the resignation of Michel Aupetit, Archbishop from Paris, which he quickly accepted for “minor” (according to the Pope himself) faults against the sixth commandment, going back several years.

It is advisable to recall here a curious rescript of November 3, 2014, in which article 5 provided: “In certain particular circumstances, the competent authority may consider it necessary to ask a bishop to present the abdication of his pastoral charge, after having make known the reasons for such a request and have listened attentively to its reasons in a fraternal dialogue.”

Despite the pope's power to dismiss bishops at any time, or even to request their resignation informally so as not to have to proceed legally, it was not clear what the point of writing it down in an official document was.

Obviously, it is once again a matter of proceeding without the legal formalities, which should safeguard people against the arbitrariness of authority and verify accountability. The pope’s words on the plane about this affair are embarrassing to say the least.

He seems to want to play down the Archbishop's real wrongdoing, to let us know that he accepted his resignation without batting an eyelid because of the “gossip” his conduct had provoked.

On the one hand, he almost “excuses” Aupetit, because at the end of the day no one is a saint and he could be forgiven for his mistakes; and on the other hand, he sacrifices him because he cannot govern because of the rumors that undermine his authority. In such a procedure, mercy and justice disappear to give way to pure political opportunity.

Could such a procedure be virtuous prudence in government? One might think so, making many distinctions, but Francis' concluding words on the affair in themselves remain difficult to understand coming from the mouth of the Roman Pontiff: “For this reason, I have accepted the resignation, not on the altar of truth but on that of hypocrisy.”

It is probable that the Pope, whose words are similar to dinner table conversation, really wanted to say that it is because of the hypocrisy of the process that Msgr. Aupetit’s resignation was accepted, but the formula he used is very unfortunate, hypocrisy in itself absolutely cannot be seen to be erected as an altar contrary to the truth.