William Kilpatrick is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center. His books include Christianity, Islam, and Atheism: The Struggle for the Soul of the West (Ignatius Press), What Catholics Need to Know About Islam (Sophia Press), and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Jihad.
Suppose your local district attorney complains loudly about the rise of violent crime in your city, yet consistently allows violent criminals to go free on low bail—even those with a long history of repeated crimes.
Is he a lying hypocrite? Or is he deeply confused—unable to see the blatant contradiction between his words and his deeds?
Either way, most people would conclude that he is unfit for office. He is as much a danger to the community as the criminals he returns to the streets.
The Catholic Church is currently ruled by just such a person. Pope Francis has said one thing and done the opposite on so many occasions that it’s fair to conclude that this is his habitual mode of behavior. One can also conclude that –like the DA who sends mixed signals—he is unfit for the office he holds. Whether or not Francis himself is a deeply confused person, he has managed to sow enormous confusion among Catholics as to what they should believe and how they should behave.
The latest instance of mixed messaging occurred on June 29th when Nancy Pelosi received Holy Communion during a mass at St. Peter’s Basilica presided over by Francis. In May, San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone had barred Pelosi from receiving Communion in his diocese because of her public advocacy of abortion. Several other American bishops followed suit.
So, in allowing Pelosi to receive Communion, Francis undermined the ruling of a fellow bishop. In addition, he ignored Church law. Canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law instructs that those “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.” What’s more, Francis seems to have contradicted his own stated opposition to abortion. In previous statements, Francis has said that abortion is “murder” and likened it to “hiring a hitman.”
But if the practice of abortion is like “hiring a hitman,” why would the pontiff have no problem with Nancy Pelosi—one of the world’s chief supporters of the hitman community—receiving communion? And why would he greet Pelosi and her husband after the Mass? One would think that he would try his best to avoid the notorious enabler of the hitmen.
Francis himself gave an answer of sorts in an interview with Reuter’s Vatican correspondent, Philip Pullella, on July 2nd. When asked whether Catholic politicians who promote abortion should be admitted to Holy Communion, Francis took the pastoral approach. He said “when the Church loses its pastoral nature, when a bishop loses his pastoral nature, it causes a political problem. That’s all I can say.”
The “pastoral approach”? Like when Christ threw the money changers out of the temple? Well, no. Francis doesn’t mean that at all. When Francis says “pastoral,” he really means “permissive.” He means being sensitive and tender and forgiving. One is reminded of that mawkish song from the 70’s, “Make it easy on yourself.”
Francis wants to make it easy on the sinner, by convincing him or her that sin is not really that bad. But to all outward appearances, Nancy Pelosi doesn’t need any convincing. Her conscience is clear, and she’ll fight to re-establish Roe vs Wade as the law of the land—no holds barred.
Pelosi seems to be the perfect example of one who is “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin.” And for those who are stubbornly unrepentant, a different kind of pastoral care is called for.
As Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas, puts it: “Pastoral care for Mrs. Pelosi is to tell her that she should not receive the Body of Christ until she stops advocating the murder of unborn children.” Like Archbishop Cordileone, Strickland has also barred Pelosi from receiving communion.
A good shepherd doesn’t simply accompany the wayward sheep as it wanders too close to the edge of the cliff, he yanks it back with his crook—roughly, if necessary. Christ didn’t treat the Pharisees with “tenderness,” he called them out as “hypocrites” and “vipers.”
Saint Paul issued an even more frightening warning for those who receive communion unworthily:
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord… For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself (Corinthians 11: 27-29).
Athanasius Schneider, the auxiliary bishop of Astana, Kazakhstan had these words in mind, when he observed that because of her “objectively sacrilegious act,” Pelosi is “consciously, stubbornly eating her own judgment.”
To the non-Catholic and to many Catholics as well, that may sound like a highly judgmental and insensitive thing to say. But keep in mind that the act in question—an abortion—is a deliberate and sometimes gruesome killing. In some cases, the unborn baby is literally torn from limb to limb.
Keep in mind also that Bishop Schneider is not talking about a desperate and frightened young woman with little support and resources who sees no alternative to abortion; he is talking about an elderly affluent Catholic who is fully aware of Catholic teaching about abortion. For the former, a sensitive pastoral approach is indeed in order, but for the latter, a “tough-love” approach may be more appropriate
But Bishop Schneider’s harshest words are reserved for the Vatican and the Pope who, he says, are guilty of pushing Pelosi “further from God” and “closer to damnation” because of their inaction.
If there are no consequences for Pelosi’s support of abortion, she will in all likelihood interpret it as tacit approval. So also, will hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of Catholics. The inaction of the Vatican constitutes “de facto permission,” according to Bishop Schneider. Many people, especially young people will reason that abortion can’t be that serious. Although the pope says that abortion is a very bad thing, he doesn’t act as though it’s a serious matter. After all, Pelosi did receive communion in St. Peter; and there’s a photo of the Pope warmly greeting Pelosi and her husband afterward.
Francis is very much like the hypothetical DA who talks tough on crime but is exceedingly lenient with actual criminals. And abortion is not the only issue about which Francis says one thing and does something else.
On several occasions Francis has spoken out against the “evil” of gender theory which he describes as part of a “global war to destroy marriage.” Yet, he consistently appoints pro-LGBT men to key positions in the Church. And he has on several occasions praised uber-activist Fr. James Martin for his “pastoral” approach to the LGBT community. Interestingly, immediately after speaking of the “evil” of gender theory, Francis added that “I am not referring to those who have a homosexual orientation” since these people deserve “pastoral care.”
Huh? Once again “pastoral care” seems to cover a multitude of sins. Abortion is “murder” and gender theory is “evil,” but those who loudly advocate for these evils must be treated with great respect and deference. Indeed, we need to listen to them and lean from them. Thus, prominent abortion advocates and population control experts are frequently invited to participate in Vatican conferences.
Pastoral care even seems to cover pagan practices. I’m not sure if Francis has ever explicitly condemned paganism, but Christianity always has, and one assumes that the leader of Christianity’s largest denomination would reject paganism. But Francis seems to have a soft spot in his heart for nature worship. A few years ago, he presided over a pagan ceremony in the Vatican Gardens which centered around the veneration of Pachamama, a pagan fertility goddess. Moreover, the Amazon Synod which Francis convened was laced with discussion of pantheism and other pagan themes. Francis’s 2015 Encyclical Laudato si also seems to assume a pagan divinization of nature, and it introduced a whole new category of sin— “sins against the earth.”
Have you committed any “sins against the earth” recently? You may have, but chances are they don’t weigh heavily on your conscience. You may be vaguely aware that your gas-guzzling SUV is polluting the air, but you have a job to get to and, besides, a larger car is safer for your family. Are you burdened with guilt over your sin against the earth? Have you confessed it to a priest? Probably not.
For that matter, have you confessed any serious sin lately? Again, probably not. The whole thrust of the Francis papacy has been to remove the burden of sin from our shoulders and to place it on the shoulders of corporations, governments and conservative political parties.
Weighed in the balance with environmental pollution and capitalist greed, your own sins are, by comparison, as lite…er, light as a feather. Don’t worry about them. Don’t become a rigid fundamentalist.
This lenient attitude toward sin, however, is pretty much the inverse of the one we find in the New Testament. Christ and the apostles were mainly concerned with the souls of individuals, not the soul of the corporation. Christ warned about the danger of personal pollution, not the danger of water pollution in the Sea of Galilee.
But what possible reason would a pope have for downplaying the serious nature of sin? The answer, according to several Catholic priests, writers, and apologists, along with a few bishops, is that Francis is more of a humanist than a Christian. His aim, they say, is to replace the Catholic Church with a humanist church, and to accomplish the transformation in such a way that most people won’t realize what has happened until it’s too late. Moreover, some won’t realize it at all. Whatever happens next in the Church will seem to them to be no more than the next logical step in the “progressive” process Francis has set in motion.
Less this seems like a wild conspiracy theory, keep in mind that something of this nature has already happened to the Catholic Church in China. The Communist-approved Catholic Patriotic Association has de facto replaced the authentic Catholic Church (the “Underground Church”) in China, and Francis has put up little to no resistance.
Whatever the situation in China, it seems evident that Francis is dissatisfied with the Catholic Church as it is, and wants to move it in a humanist (and less supernatural) direction. The first step in that direction is to sow confusion about sin. Humanist philosophies and movements deny original sin; they look upon “sin” as the result of ignorance, and not the result of any inherent human flaw. Because belief in sin is a bar to fulfilling the humanist agenda, it must be undermined.
But since a frontal assault on the reality of sin would be resisted, Francis has chosen the more gradual “yes-but” approach. Yes, abortion is a terrible thing, but not so terrible that the Church should bother the consciences of pro-abortion Catholic politicians about it. Yes, gender theory is evil, but that’s no reason that Francis shouldn’t praise gender activists to the skies and reward them with influential positions.
Francis has spread a fog of confusion over many things, but his main goal, it seems, is to bring about a lessening of the sense of sin. In doing so, however, he undermines the whole rationale for Christianity.
When John the Baptist announced the coming of a savior, his main emphasis was on the need to repent. But if man is not a sinful creature, there is no need for him to repent and, thus, no need for a savior. A sinless humanity has no need of the redemptive work of Christ, and no need for a supernatural revelation.
So, by eroding the serious nature of sin, Francis paves the way for the humanist church—a non-judgmental church that simply seeks to improve the human condition without any reference to revelation, to the supernatural, or to the next world.
The hypothesis that Francis is essentially a humanist who is attempting to recast the Church in a humanist mold helps to explain many of his confusing and contradictory statements and actions. But there may be another, more personal reason, why Francis has chosen the path of permissiveness. It’s a startling hypothesis, but one that fits the facts. In my next column, I’ll discuss that thesis, and why it deserves our attention.