The dystopian 1907 classic novel, The Lord of the World, was written by the son of the Archbishop of Canterbury who became an Anglican priest and then converted to Catholicism. Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson sidestepped his own ascension to the Canterbury throne when his scandalous move to Rome laid the groundwork for the book that eerily reflects the world we live in today.
That world depicts the erosion of spirituality and the emergence of a new political environment where religion is abolished. This is a world where human freedom is restricted, and where the state creates a false religion based on the belief in Humanity rather than a transcendental God.
This new Church of Humanity comes complete with rituals that mirror Catholic liturgical life, since even the new government knows that people need some form of “worship.”
In Benson’s book, we read how Pope Silvester, the last pope of the Catholic Church, is forced to live in the Holy Land because Rome has been annihilated by the new government.
“…Christianity had smouldered away from Europe like a sunset on darkening peaks; Eternal Rome was a heap of ruins; in East and West alike a man had been set upon the throne of God, had been acclaimed as divine. The world had leaped forward; social science was supreme; man had learned consistency; they had learned, too, the social lessons of Christianity apart from a Divine Teacher, or, rather, they said, in spite of Him. There were left, perhaps three millions, perhaps five, at the utmost ten millions throughout the entire inhabited globe who still worshipped Jesus Christ as God. And the Vicar of Christ sat in a whitewashed room in Nazareth, dressed as simply as his master, waiting for the end.”
A question arises: Did it ever occur to Benson while writing ‘Lord of the World’ to depict the Vicar of Christ as playing a part in the creation of the new Church of Humanity?
Would Benson have dared write about a compromised papacy?
Could he have even imaged a pope who elevated social issues and political ideology to the level of religious dogma?
If Benson had been able to psychically transport himself into the future and actually “see” a pope in the 21st century putting a pagan idol (Pachamama) near the altar of Saint Peter’s, would he have dared put that into print?
My guess is no, because even in the dystopian world of fictional narrative such an inclusion would have been perceived as somehow ‘sacrilegious.’
Fast forward to today’s bizarre landscape, where Pope Francis in many ways appears to be a participant in the campaign to reshape the Catholic Church in ways that would have shocked his namesake, Francis of Assai.
Francis, often categorized as the first woke pope in history, as well as the papal personification of the so-called ‘smorgasbord Catholic,’ has referred to American Catholics as being “too conservative, ideological and backwards.”
While there are certainly fringe groups in the United States that use traditionalism as an excuse for uncharitable attacks, it is Francis himself who is the master of ideology—that being the ideology of the totalitarian left on a far range of issues, from climate change (which he has elevated to the status of a new religious dogma on a par with the Immaculate Conception) to various pronouncements on migrants and illegal immigration.
Ideological Francis has stacked the College of Cardinals with clones of himself so that after his death the chances of a conservative being elevated to the chair of Peter will be close to minimal barring a great miracle.
This is the pope, after all, who says that atheists can go to heaven (a direct contradiction of Scripture), a statement that suggests that one needn’t stop being an atheist because, in the end, everybody winds up in the same place anyway (heaven).
This is the pope who advises against evangelization or converting anyone to Christianity or Catholicism; the pope who engineered the Synod on Synodality to further reform the Church and possibly set the groundwork for rewriting the Catholic catechism; the same pope who rang an alarm bell when the Catholic bishops in Germany stated that the German Synod will make the rules for the German Church going forward.
This alarmist reaction is odd, considering that it was Francis himself who set the Synod in motion, in effect releasing the elaborate machinery of radical reform throughout the global Church.
Has Francis forgotten that he is the one who let the horses out of the stable?
The Synod toyed with all sorts of innovations, such as women deacons, even though everywhere where women have ascended to high places in Christian denominations, those churches have been drawn into woke revisionist Christianity.
It is quite probable that as the Synod resumes in 2024, it will begin to lay the groundwork for the rewriting of the Catholic catechism.
One example: The catechism states that acting out on same sex attraction is sin, whereas the Synod suggests that blessing same sex unions may be the way to go.
Which is it? Either the catechism got it wrong all these years or the Synod is awash in heterodoxy.
The case of Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas is another example of Francis’ ideological mindset.
It is assumed that one reason Francis fired Strickland was the bishop’s unwillingness to support the Synod. Strickland made it clear that the work of the Synod was leaning in the direction of dismissing what the Church has taught for 2,000 years,
Strickland’s decision not to enforce Francis’ anti-Latin Mass document, Traditionis Custodes, also put him on the Vatican’s radar.
It didn’t help that Strickland also condemned the covid vaccines in the U.S. as being “abortion tainted,” because pharmaceutical companies used cell lines that could be traced to aborted fetuses from the 1970s and 1980s.
In firing Bishop Strickland, Francis leveled no formal charges, which tells us that the reason was ideological.
At an Oct. 31 public gathering in Rome, Strickland read from a letter he attributed to a “dear friend,” that accused Pope Francis of being a “usurper of Peter’s chair.” Later, the bishop came out and said that Pope Francis was supporting an “attack on the sacred.”
On June 19-24, Strickland was subjected to an apostolic visitation by Bishop Dennis J. Sullivan of Camden, NJ and retired Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of Tucson, Arizona.
Apostolic Visitations might be compared to a benign FBI raid.
Strickland recalls that visitation as being cordial, based as it was on “administrative issues”—which in the end proved to be a lie, since the Tyler diocese was thriving.
Ironically, Strickland is not a doctrinaire traditionalist at all but celebrates the Latin Mass as well as the Novus Ordo Vatican II rite.
In a recent interview, Strickland said that he did not want to jeopardize the Catholics in his diocese who found greater substance and spirituality in the old rite—a rite that has not been corrupted with innovations that many perceive to be “Protestant.”
A possible silver lining in the firing of Strickland is that it outed Francis as an arch enemy of tradition.
Strickland, after all, didn’t molest altar boys or girls; he didn’t steal from diocesan funds, he didn’t preach heresy.
His dismissal has caused reactions to pour in from all quarters of the globe: a protest march through the streets in downtown Tyler in support of Strickland; a protest prayer meeting (the Rosary) outside the three day 2023 Baltimore US Bishops Conference in early November; scores of petitions, pod casts and videos condemning this decision of the pope’s even as the latter moves forward with robotic swiftness in eliminating perceived traditionalist enemies.
Ironically, the pope’s social justice statements and his crackdown on all things “historically Catholic” most appeal to Catholics with the loosest connections to the Church, the Catholics who no longer attend Mass and who identify as ‘cultural Catholics’ only.
As Ross Douthat explained in the New York Times,
“[Liberal Catholic pronouncements] still fail to generate the level of commitment that induces men and women to give their lives in service to the faith.”
What this points to, Douthat adds, is that “the papacy’s claim to be a rock of unchanging teaching has more often than not been just a claim.”