Francis's Pontificate: A Profound Coherence in an Apparent Contradiction?

January 12, 2023

Two books on the pontificate of Francis are appearing. The first is the Italian translation of Julia Meloni's La mafia di San Gallo (Fede & Cultura), published in the United States under the title The St. Gallen Mafia (TAN Books). The second is the work of Jean-Pierre Moreau, François. La conquête du pouvoir [Francis. The Conquest of Power].

The authors of these two books see in the current pontificate a profound coherence under an apparent contradiction.

The St. Gallen Mafia

Julia Meloni's work was the subject of an analysis by historian Roberto de Mattei in the European Correspondence on November 10, 2021. On the occasion of the publication of the Italian translation, Stefano Fontana devotes an article to it in La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana on November 25, 2022. The Italian academic writes: “The subtitle translates the American title to the letter: “A secret reformist group within the Church.”

“As is well known, the expression from which the book takes its title was coined by a member of the group, the Belgian Cardinal Danneels, in reference to a number of high-ranking prelates, who later became cardinals, who met regularly in St. Gallen, Switzerland (but not only there), to coordinate efforts for change in the Church: Danneels himself, Martini, Kasper, Murphy O'Connor, Lehmann.”

In Stefano Fontana’s opinion, the great merit of the work is the following: “The narrative focuses on the emergence of the primate of Argentina, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, and on the progressive convergence of his positions with the auspices of the St. Gallen group. I leave these numerous and interesting pages to the reader, rather than point out one of the most interesting dimensions of the book.”

Julia “Meloni does not just write an ecclesiastical mystery, a story of plots and pitfalls, to be read like a spy book. The actions of the St. Gallen group have a theological vision behind them and are aimed at a ‘regime change’ in the Church, not only and not so much by replacing one person with another, but one paradigm with another.”

“The group wanted to implement the liberal revolution in the Church that Karl Rahner had expressed in detail in 1972 in his book The Restructuring of the Church as a Task and as an Opportunity. Revision of the Church’s position on sexuality, contraception, and homosexuality, celibacy of priests, women’s diaconate, doctrinal decentralization, communion for divorced and remarried, synodality: such was the St. Gallen group’s program for the ‘revolution’ already codified from its beginnings.”

And he adds: “According to Meloni, the Bergoglio’s election at the 2013 conclave was the final outcome of a long machination during which the group had to be patient, wait for the right moment, momentarily review its tactics, reposition itself, but without even giving up, not even after its reduction first by the death of Silvestrini and then that of Martini.”

“And in fact, the author lists the provisions with which Bergoglio/Francis is today implementing all the points of the group’s agenda referred to above.” Stefano Fontana concludes by indicating the method used by the members of the St. Gallen Mafia to achieve their ends: “There are two tactical criteria followed for this 'revolution' in the Church, today in full implementation, according to our author,” Julia Meloni.

“The first is speed: Murphy O'Connor [Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster in the United Kingdom, 1932-2017] said that four years of Bergoglio would be enough to have a different church. More have passed and everyone sees that it is proceeding in forced steps. The second, only apparently contrary, is that of prudence.”

“Laying the foundations for changes, producing them indirectly, temporarily stopping them when they become too disruptive and, therefore, liable to a dangerous reaction, making them go under the radar to then make them emerge at the right time.” – This tactical prudence would explain the apparent contradictions of a revolution that would nevertheless be profoundly coherent.

A Pope Under Influence

The second book recently published, Francis. The Conquest of Power is subtitled: Itinerary of a Pope under Influence. Its author, Jean-Pierre Moreau, is a specialist in Latin America where on several occasions he met many representatives of liberation theology who marked the thought and praxis of Pope Francis.

According to him, the influence that weighs heavily on the current Pontiff is threefold:

- first, “people's theology” - an Argentinian variant of “liberation theology” which promotes the “people of God” as a “theological place,” and therefore a source of knowledge of Revelation;

- then, Peronism, a subtle mixture of opportunist pragmatism and populist ideology;

- finally, the reform of the Society of Jesus led by Fr. Pedro Arrupe, Superior General of the Jesuits from 1965, at the close of the Second Vatican Council, and until 1983.

In his postscript, the author insists on this last point, he writes: “Since Pope Francis was elected, we have sought to know what he is. He was unknown to the French faithful. All this work has led us to a certain conclusion: Pope Francis is carrying out the program for the reform of the Society of Jesus set up by Fr. Arrupe.”

To those who will object that it was a matter of the reform of the Company and not that of the Church, Jean-Pierre Moreau replies: “This is forgetting the hundred texts Fr. Arrupe published in 1982, under the title La Iglezia de Hoy y del Futuro: The Church Today and in the Future. His reform was therefore aimed at the entire Church.

The German Karl Rahner S.J., the Spaniard Pedro Arrupe S.J., the Italian Carlo Maria Martini S.J., or the St. Gallen Mafia in Switzerland? Can we determine a preponderant influence or rather discern a bundle of converging influences? History will tell.

A Revealing Pontificate

In an article on November 21, the compatriot of Pope Francis who runs the Caminante Wanderer blog is content to see the paradoxically providential effect of this pontificate: Pope Francis applies the conciliar reforms to the end, without any of the reservations, timidity, or scruples of the popes who preceded him, so that everyone can see, without any possible doubt, the bitter fruits of Vatican II. An irrefutable object lesson, contra factum non fit argumentum.

According to this mysterious Argentinian, it is a real “slap in the face for those who hailed Francis as the pontiff who would finally apply the conciliar reforms in depth. [Basically] they had made a good calculation: the Church that Pope Bergoglio represents is the Conciliar Church, that of dying religious orders and congregations, of deserted seminaries, of doctrinal confusion, of corruption rooted in a goodly part of the episcopate and the clergy, of the dissolution and loss of the faith, of the insignificance in contemporary society, of the churches demolished or sold for lack of faithful, of the liturgical desacralization, etc.”

Like all revolutionaries, the conciliars – at least those not entirely blinded by ideology – are surprised to see that the reforms promoted by Vatican II are leading to a great void. The ideologues trample on the facts and fall into this void, convinced that they are in the right. It is a true void.