Momentous Days Ahead

Editor’s Note: Given the three major events about to unfold (The pope’s Cuba trip, his visit to America, the Synod on the Family), The Catholic Thing will be bringing you special coverage of each of them in coming weeks. You will be able to read daily reports here (in addition to the regular columns) as well as links to other material we think essential to understanding what’s happening in the Church and world. I myself will be covering the entirety of the papal trip with my old conclave colleagues, Raymond Arroyo and Fr. Gerald Murray, on EWTN. We’ll post links to video highlights here in a format developed specially for that purpose – don’t be shocked when you see a different homepage for a while. Like last year, I’ll also be posting a daily report from the Ordinary Synod in Rome, as well as some video clips and additional material I’ll be developing for a group of Catholic publications (more about this soon). We’re living through some complicated and controverted times. Make sure you have good, accurate information about what’s happening by reading The Catholic Thing daily. – Robert Royal

Pope Francis arrives in Cuba Saturday, followed immediately by a swing through Washington, New York, and the World Meeting on Families in Philadelphia. Just a few days after he returns to Rome, the Synod on the Family will open and run through almost the entire month of October. Analysts will pick apart the visits to Cuba and America – rightly so, because they involve the most prominent Communist survivor (Cuba) of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the premier protagonist in the international arena today (USA). But in terms of real impact in the world, it’s quite likely that the Synod on the Family will have the most far-reaching consequences.

Pope Francis has been in Cuba before (never in America), and helped broker President Obama’s recent restoration of diplomatic relations with the island. He was asked to be present during John Paul II’s 1998 trip and even wrote a short book about it later, which set out what we have come to see as Francis’s basic social vision.

In his native Argentina, the Montoneros, Marxists financed and abetted by Castro, murdered over 800 people, kidnapped over 1700 more, exploded hundreds of bombs in cities, and assaulted army and police. Unlike his fellow countryman Ernesto “Che” Guevara, Jorge Bergoglio never felt any love for Marxism.

But as the Cuban book showed, Bergoglio had already developed an equal dislike of what Latin Americans often call “neoliberalism” – an unregulated capitalism that most of us in developed nations don’t recognize as an accurate description of our politics and economies. Indeed, in Europe and America, the national state is more and more involved in every aspect of economics, local governance, and even cultural and moral questions.

As Austen Ivereigh explains in The Great Reformer, his indispensable biography of Pope Francis, the future pope was much influenced by a maverick intellectual and friend Methol Ferré. They “foresaw the Latin-American Church as the catalyst of a common Latin-American destiny – la patria grande – in a global future marked by continent-states. After the failures of both the North American model of economic growth and Cuban-style socialism, they were convinced that the stage now belonged to the People of God.”

As pope, Francis has retained that basic vision. He will likely repeat it in Cuba. More unpredictable is how he will deal with the Cuban regime, which is still a sponsor of terrorism, though a now minor player in global politics. It just released 3500 prisoners in anticipation of his visit – primarily the old and young, no political prisoners so far as we can tell. Benedict XVI arguably made a grave mistake in not meeting with dissidents during his own visit to Cuba in 2006. The famous Damas de blanco, the Ladies in White who have been fearless in calling for justice for political prisoners, again fear they are being shunned.

The pope has not been particularly well served by staff during recent trips – witness the “surprise” gift by Bolivia’s Marxist president of Jesus crucified on the hammer and sickle, and the pope’s misinformed plea for a political prisoner in Paraguay, who turned out to be held by guerrillas, not the government. The Castro brothers are wily propagandists and manipulators; it will take some Christian cunning to thwart their designs.

Cdl. Kasper
Cdl. Kasper

The pope’s visit to America is already raising hopes and fears in several quarters. It will be an error, however, to read him solely through the lenses of our partisan politics. We’re already hearing Republicans hoping he’ll push his pro-family, pro-life message; and Democrats equally hoping the social justice and environmental teachings will predominate. The pope’s notion of the importance of a “human ecology” has the potential, properly presented, to transcend that partisanship.

The Philadelphia events will offer ample chances for the pope to clarify his real teaching on marriage and the family – far different than what the media extrapolated from the infamous “Who am I to judge?” By contrast, we can expect that in his addresses to Congress and the United Nations, we’ll hear about poverty, inequality, and environmental threats – though these pleas will probably be tempered by Francis’s belief that population control, abortion, etc., are not the answers to such questions.

The beatification of Fr. Junipero Serra, a Franciscan and one of the great Californian evangelizers, will be a boost for Hispanics, but also for everyone who thinks that lately Christians have been too quick to accept criticisms that evangelization is essentially colonialism. In some readings of Vatican II, the desire to see value in all “cultures” and even other religions, took a lot of steam out of what was back then very successful missionary work. It will be interesting to see how Pope Francis negotiates that minefield.

The most demanding process, however, will begin when he returns to Rome. Last year’s Synod left quite a bit of confusion – and outright anguish – among Catholics. The Synod’s primary aim is to aid the family at a time when it’s under attack, not only by radical ideas like “gender theory,” but by the policies of governments, who seem to think that the way to help the family is, in effect, to destroy it.

This is not small matter in Catholic social teaching, and even in ordinary human considerations, because the family is the basic cell of any sound society. Yet the Synod seemed to be edging towards things like full Communion for the divorced and remarried, and the valuing of homosexual “relationships” – and even perhaps of homosexuality itself, both of which cannot help but further damage an already reeling institution.

How did that happen? To find out, you must read Edward Pentin’s splendid new book, The Rigging of a Vatican Synod?: An Investigation into Alleged Manipulation at the Extraordinary Synod on the Family. Note the question mark and careful formulation. Pentin is a highly professional journalist. As a Catholic, he hesitated about writing this account, lest he give unnecessary scandal. But the sourcing and analysis are impeccable throughout, and the result is a reliable account of who did what to whom – and may try to do so again.

When the Vatican announced the streamlining of the annulment process this week, several knowledgeable sources, including Pentin, anticipated that it would take some pressure off the Synod on the question of Communion for the divorced/remarried. John Allen, always worth reading, even claimed the Vatican had told the Germans that that was all they would get at the Synod. Shortly after, Cardinal Marx went public saying the reforms didn’t go far enough, and Cardinal Kasper was back singing his usual song.

It’s going to be a very interesting Fall.

Robert Royal

Robert Royal

Dr. Robert Royal is editor-in-chief of The Catholic Thing, and president of the Faith & Reason Institute in Washington, D.C. His most recent book is A Deeper Vision: The Catholic Intellectual Tradition in the Twentieth Century, published by Ignatius Press. The God That Did Not Fail: How Religion Built and Sustains the West, is now available in paperback from Encounter Books.

  • ron a.

    “John Allen…claimed the Vatican had told the Germans that that is all they would get at the Synod.” Well, that should afford ample opportunity for the “divorced and remarried”. Bishop shopping, and/or priest shopping, will allow for easy annulments, thus solving the problem of Communion distribution. Looks to me like the contraceptive debacle all over again.

    Compromise is for politics. It should stay out of religion. Otherwise there will never be an end to it. A ‘watered down’ faith is not worth living; save for the “lukewarm”.

    • lwhite

      The pope and the German bishops have clearly adopted “the tendency in the phenomenon of casuistry to remove the difficulties of moral obligation and to make the observance of the gospel law easy, by accommodating it to human weakness.”

      “Fundamentally, casuistry is entirely reasonable and necessary. As the discipline which tells man how to apply to individual actions ethical rules which of their nature are universal, theological casuistry has a function analogous to legal casuistry, or jurisprudence, and is begotton of the necessary and ever present imperatives of moral action.”

      “Iota Unum”, by Romano Amerio”- #20

      • ron a.

        And Pascal pointed this out so well in his “Provincial Letters”. It’s the Jesuit approach: (an) “accommodating conduct (that) allows them to stretch out a helping hand to all mankind”. (The doctrine of ‘probable opinions’.) SOME THINGS haven’t changed in 360 years!

  • ron a.

    “John Allen…claimed the Vatican had told the Germans that that is all they would get at the Synod.” Well, that should afford ample opportunity for the “divorced and remarried”. Bishop shopping, and/or priest shopping, will allow for easy annulments, thus solving the problem of Communion distribution. Looks to me like the contraceptive debacle all over again.

    Compromise is for politics. It should stay out of religion. Otherwise there will never be an end to it. A ‘watered down’ faith is not worth living; save for the “lukewarm”.

    • lwhite

      The pope and the German bishops have clearly adopted “the tendency in the phenomenon of casuistry to remove the difficulties of moral obligation and to make the observance of the gospel law easy, by accommodating it to human weakness.”

      “Fundamentally, casuistry is entirely reasonable and necessary. As the discipline which tells man how to apply to individual actions ethical rules which of their nature are universal, theological casuistry has a function analogous to legal casuistry, or jurisprudence, and is begotton of the necessary and ever present imperatives of moral action.”

      “Iota Unum”, by Romano Amerio”- #20

      • ron a.

        And Pascal pointed this out so well in his “Provincial Letters”. It’s the Jesuit approach: (an) “accommodating conduct (that) allows them to stretch out a helping hand to all mankind”. (The doctrine of ‘probable opinions’.) SOME THINGS haven’t changed in 360 years!

  • grump

    If Francis takes a direct poke at Planned Parenthood and America’s moral decline I’ll take back everything bad I ever said about him. But I doubt he will. The spin meisters will turn his every phrase to suit the ongoing narrative focused on a “progressive” Pope who is “reforming” the Church. And one grip-and-grin photo with the Murderer-in-Chief will ruined his entire visit to America.

    • samton909

      What is so funny is that the recent poll shows he has the lowest approval rating of any Pope in the last 60 years or so. Yet the media totally ignores this because they feel he can be used to push the things they want pushed. If this were Benedict with those numbers, all we would be hearing about is how this dreadfully unpopular Pope was daring to visit the United States. But since they feel he can be used, they pretend the most popular Pope in the Universe is coming to grace us. Notice how they have completely forgotten about the abuse crisis suddenly. This shows they were only using it as a stick to beat traditional Catholics.

  • grump

    If Francis takes a direct poke at Planned Parenthood and America’s moral decline I’ll take back everything bad I ever said about him. But I doubt he will. The spin meisters will turn his every phrase to suit the ongoing narrative focused on a “progressive” Pope who is “reforming” the Church. And one grip-and-grin photo with the Murderer-in-Chief will ruined his entire visit to America.

    • samton909

      What is so funny is that the recent poll shows he has the lowest approval rating of any Pope in the last 60 years or so. Yet the media totally ignores this because they feel he can be used to push the things they want pushed. If this were Benedict with those numbers, all we would be hearing about is how this dreadfully unpopular Pope was daring to visit the United States. But since they feel he can be used, they pretend the most popular Pope in the Universe is coming to grace us. Notice how they have completely forgotten about the abuse crisis suddenly. This shows they were only using it as a stick to beat traditional Catholics.

  • didymus46

    With each passing week or month, the SSPX will look more and more appealing to many Catholics, uneasy relationship with the Holy See notwithstanding. What on earth can the “progressives” be thinking? It’s been said that the U.S. Constitution is not a suicide pact. Neither is Holy Church.

  • didymus46

    With each passing week or month, the SSPX will look more and more appealing to many Catholics, uneasy relationship with the Holy See notwithstanding. What on earth can the “progressives” be thinking? It’s been said that the U.S. Constitution is not a suicide pact. Neither is Holy Church.

  • BXVI

    I have to admit, I am dreading all of this. I dread the visit to Cuba. I dread the visit to the United States. I dread the Synod. I honestly think I may just go into bunker mode and avoid all Church and Pope news, emerging to survey the damage only when it is all over. I pray I am wrong, but I do not think the next 2 monthys are going to be good for the Church or edifying to the faith.

    • Martha Rice Martini

      Me too.

    • RufusChoate

      I have relatives in and around the Philadelphia area of varying degrees of commitment to the faith along with disparate political identity and all share your dread or a complete lack of interest in anything Pope Francis says. He is just one endless disappointment and source of confusion.
      With that in mind we should pray for him… God bless and save the Pope.

  • BXVI

    I have to admit, I am dreading all of this. I dread the visit to Cuba. I dread the visit to the United States. I dread the Synod. I honestly think I may just go into bunker mode and avoid all Church and Pope news, emerging to survey the damage only when it is all over. I pray I am wrong, but I do not think the next 2 monthys are going to be good for the Church or edifying to the faith.

    • Martha Rice Martini

      Me too.

    • RufusChoate

      I have relatives in and around the Philadelphia area of varying degrees of commitment to the faith along with disparate political identity and all share your dread or a complete lack of interest in anything Pope Francis says. He is just one endless disappointment and source of confusion.
      With that in mind we should pray for him… God bless and save the Pope.

  • lwhite

    Pope Francis has bought into the leftwing’s definition of “equality” which is really nothing more than one of the French Revolution’s defining rejections of the Truth of Christ. (Liberty, Equality, Fraternity!)

    The leftwing believes that no differences among people should be recognized and everyone should be equal in all things. Obviously, this is an impossibility but that is of no importance to them.

    Pope Leo XIII addressed this in his encyclical “Rerum Novarum” (1891): “Therefore, let it be laid down in the first place that in civil society, the lowest cannot be made equal with the highest. Socialists, of course agitate the contrary, but all struggling against nature is in vain. There are truly very great and very many natural differences among men. Neither the talents nor the skill nor the health nor the capacities of all are the same, and unequal fortune follows itself upon necessary inequality in respect to these endowments.

    Such inequality is far from being disadvantageous either to individuals or to the community. Social and public life can only be maintained by various kinds of capacity for business and the playing of many parts; and each man, as a rule, chooses the part which suits his own peculiar domestic condition.”

    The fact that we are unequal is a benefit, “for to carry on its affairs, community life requires varied aptitudes and diverse services. And to perform these diverse services, men are impelled most by differences in individual property holdings.”

    “Pope Leo addresses the evil of equality. Equality is against nature and against the whole range of human gifts. Human gifts make us necessarily unequal in some sense.” (Michael Novak).

  • lwhite

    Pope Francis has bought into the leftwing’s definition of “equality” which is really nothing more than one of the French Revolution’s defining rejections of the Truth of Christ. (Liberty, Equality, Fraternity!)

    The leftwing believes that no differences among people should be recognized and everyone should be equal in all things. Obviously, this is an impossibility but that is of no importance to them.

    Pope Leo XIII addressed this in his encyclical “Rerum Novarum” (1891): “Therefore, let it be laid down in the first place that in civil society, the lowest cannot be made equal with the highest. Socialists, of course agitate the contrary, but all struggling against nature is in vain. There are truly very great and very many natural differences among men. Neither the talents nor the skill nor the health nor the capacities of all are the same, and unequal fortune follows itself upon necessary inequality in respect to these endowments.

    Such inequality is far from being disadvantageous either to individuals or to the community. Social and public life can only be maintained by various kinds of capacity for business and the playing of many parts; and each man, as a rule, chooses the part which suits his own peculiar domestic condition.”

    The fact that we are unequal is a benefit, “for to carry on its affairs, community life requires varied aptitudes and diverse services. And to perform these diverse services, men are impelled most by differences in individual property holdings.”

    “Pope Leo addresses the evil of equality. Equality is against nature and against the whole range of human gifts. Human gifts make us necessarily unequal in some sense.” (Michael Novak).

  • Brendan Quinn

    I am losing hope for Pope Francis, ..”the earth looks like a rubbish dump” in a Papal encyclical !!!. It is extremely distressing for us who love and pray for the Church and who do our level best to evangelise and bring folks back home to the faith to have to deal with Francis’s statements. May God help us all.

    • mw006

      I share your distress and await the events in the upcoming weeks with foreboding. I can only hope my recurring doubts and fears will prove misplaced.

  • Brendan Quinn

    I am losing hope for Pope Francis, ..”the earth looks like a rubbish dump” in a Papal encyclical !!!. It is extremely distressing for us who love and pray for the Church and who do our level best to evangelise and bring folks back home to the faith to have to deal with Francis’s statements. May God help us all.

    • mw006

      I share your distress and await the events in the upcoming weeks with foreboding. I can only hope my recurring doubts and fears will prove misplaced.

  • grump

    I can’t tell much difference between Pope Francis and Bernie Sanders.

    • samton909

      Bernie Sanders has more hair.

  • grump

    I can’t tell much difference between Pope Francis and Bernie Sanders.

    • samton909

      Bernie Sanders has more hair.

  • John II

    “It’s going to be a very interesting Fall.”

    What bothers me these days is that the topic of Francis is getting suspiciously topical, with his angry detractors and defensive admirers both pushing me into a bored state of versifying.

    As a papist I worry about my new Pope
    Whenever he seems to talk like a dope.
    And yet I’m sustained by a lingering hope
    That makes me able to continue to cope.

    I think of the fact that he comes from a part
    Of the world where governance ain’t very smart.
    I think his humility is real enough,
    But touted too much, so not very tough.

    I think when he writes he prefers to exhort,
    Rather than argue with reasoned retort.
    I think he’s no thinker and just a mite shallow.
    But the Popes of his era are hard acts to follow.

    • Brendan Quinn

      lol !

  • John II

    “It’s going to be a very interesting fall.”

    What bothers me these days is that the topic of Francis is getting suspiciously topical, with his angry detractors and defensive admirers both pushing me into a bored state of versifying.

    As a papist I worry about my new Pope
    Whenever he seems to talk like a dope.
    And yet I’m sustained by a lingering hope
    That makes me able to continue to cope.

    I think of the fact that he comes from a part
    Of the world where governance ain’t very smart.
    I think his humility is real enough,
    But touted too much, so not very tough.

    I think when he writes he prefers to exhort,
    Rather than argue with reasoned retort.
    I think he’s no thinker and just a mite shallow.
    But the Popes of his era are hard acts to follow.

  • eddie too

    pope francis is the most holy and intelligent man to receive the papacy in the 63 years of my life.
    the criticism he receives from catholics is a strong indicator of how far astray some in the Church have wandered. their inability to recognize true holiness and vision is sad, but not hopeless.

  • eddie too

    pope francis is the most holy and intelligent man to receive the papacy in the 63 years of my life.
    the criticism he receives from catholics is a strong indicator of how far astray some in the Church have wandered. their inability to recognize true holiness and vision is sad, but not hopeless.

  • John II

    “It’s going to be an interesting Fall.”

    Sorry, but that haunting line keeps coming back to me. Did you intend some kind of irony?

    St. Augustine gave us the term peccatum originale to refer to the Fall described in Genesis. And he was talking about all seasons. Late in his lengthy treatise City of God, he identifies some of the salient effects of original sin, not least being the painful condition that what we learn with difficulty we forget with ease.

    Which also brings to mind the understated ancient Chinese prayer: Save me and my family from living in interesting times.

    • Romulus

      That is fascinating, about forgetfulness. Can you tell me where I can find that in City of God?

      • John II

        The reference is easy to remember. You’ll find St. Augustine’s catalog of the effects of original sin in Chapter 22 of Book 22, the last book of City of God.

        • Romulus

          Thank you.

  • Diane

    I am frightened by the fact that those who support this Pope are the most liberal lay people, Bishops and Cardinals. I don’t like that Obama, who hates the Catholic Church, indicates a respect for him. I am just very worried! I pray that the Pope will pronounce that the Doctrines of the Catholic Church will remain unchanged and say this with no confusion by anyone.

  • Diane

    I am frightened by the fact that those who support this Pope are the most liberal lay people, Bishops and Cardinals. I don’t like that Obama, who hates the Catholic Church, indicates a respect for him. I am just very worried! I pray that the Pope will pronounce that the Doctrines of the Catholic Church will remain unchanged and say this with no confusion by anyone.



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