For more than half a century, we have been hearing of “the spirit of Vatican II,” which has caused the Church incalculable trouble. I would like to focus on “the spirit of Vatican I” – not often spoken of, but which has also caused the Church incalculable trouble in its “creeping infallibilism.”
St. John Henry Cardinal Newman was among the “inopportunists” in the lead-up to that Council. While believing strongly in papal primacy, he considered a dogmatic definition to be inopportune, and probably also unnecessary. When the teaching was dogmatically defined, he was actually quite pleased with its moderate claims. He was deeply concerned, however, that a certain penumbra would develop, almost deifying both the person and acts of the pope.
It’s in this perspective that I want to situate the Father Frank Pavone case. I’ve known the man for decades and count him a friend; he’s bright, thoroughly an orthodox, faithful, charismatic, and courageous priest – with a huge ego, which may figure largely in the current crisis, on both sides. But as a prelate remarked to me the other day: “If a big ego is grounds for laicization, we wouldn’t have many priests or bishops left!”
There’s been no shortage of commentary on Pavone’s laicization. Father Gerald Murray produced a short but informative canonical reflection, essentially concluding that the grounds for dismissal given in the nuncio’s letter to the bishops of the country, namely, blasphemy and disobedience, do not generally rise to the level demanding laicization. In point of fact, whenever he came up against what he deemed an unfair demand by his bishop, Pavone appealed to the Holy See – and was vindicated every time.
Vatican I’s dogmatic definition of the Church’s infallibility was followed by the loss of the Papal States, causing the pope to become a “prisoner of the Vatican.” A protective wall was built up to support the pope, a kind of aura culminating in the pontificates of Pius XII and John Paul II.
I deeply admired and loved John Paul, however, the personality cult that grew up around him is partly responsible for the present moment. Young priests, when asked why they were doing certain things all too often took their cue from JPII and answered, “Because the Holy Father does this.” A wrong answer: I do something because it’s right, not because a pope does it.
Now, let’s turn to March 13, 2013, the day Jorge Mario Cardinal Bergoglio succeeded Benedict XVI. It was the inauguration of a pontificate of lawlessness and overreach. Consider the following examples.
Francis appeared on the loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica in improper attire (we later heard that he told the papal master of ceremonies, “The Carnival is over”); even more concerning, he asked the crowd assembled in the Square to bless him. Clearly, he did not intend to submit himself to the role of being pope but planned to refashion the ministry in his own image and likeness.
• On his first Holy Thursday as pope, he washed the feet of women and Muslims, breaking liturgical law.
• In 2014, he summarily dismissed Raymond Cardinal Burke from his post as prefect of the Apostolic Signatura.
• Also in 2014, he removed Bishop Rogelio Livieres Plano as the Ordinary of Ciudad del Este in Paraguay.
• In 2017, he reached down into the staff of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and fired three priests of the dicastery. When the prefect, Gerhard Cardinal Müller, eventually got an audience and asked on what grounds those men were to be terminated, Francis replied that as pope, he could do whatever he wanted, with no explanations.
• Within a few months, Müller also found himself out of a job.
• For years now, we have watched the hostile papal take-over of the Knights of Malta.
• Father Alessandro Minutella of the Archdiocese of Palermo incurred a double (!) excommunication and laicization, with no trial and no appeal.
• Francis often concelebrated Masses without proper vestments, without even a stole. A pope cannot be a “concelebrant.” If he presides at a liturgy (rather than being the principal celebrant), the proper vesture is a cope (which he only recently has adopted).
• Amoris Laetitia gave a wink toward Holy Communion for the divorced/remarried.
• On his own initiative, with no consultation, he changed the text of the Catechism on the death penalty and even pressured episcopal conferences to change the wording of the Lord’s Prayer.
• Whatever one thinks of ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, he was denied due process of law and brusquely laicized by the pope (ironically dismissing one of the men who helped make him pope).
• Recently, he removed Bishop Daniel Fernandez Torres from his post as Ordinary of Arecibo, Puerto Rico without adequate explanation.
• A reign of terror prevails in the Curia, with workers silenced by fear; this is also the case with many of the world’s bishops.
• The College of Cardinals has been treated like altar boys. For years on end, Francis allowed for no pre-consistory meetings; the latest consistory had no time scheduled for public interventions.
• Where is the much-vaunted collegiality/synodality? A dramatic loss of episcopal authority has occurred, so that bishops have had their judgment circumscribed as to the Usus Antiquior of the Mass and in their ability to establish new religious communities, among many other examples.
• Francis has chosen to rule by motu proprio (the ecclesiastical version of an executive order) 47 times in nine years. John Paul II’s issued a mere 30 in 27 years.
Many more instances of papal overreach could be cited. So, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that Francis acted against Father Pavone as he did. But it’s a great scandal for the faithful and even for non-Catholics when an internationally known and respected priest is laicized – for reasons not envisioned in canon law, accompanied by a refusal to explain to the media.
It is perversely amusing that those on the left side of the ecclesial aisle are currently competing with W. G. Ward, the quintessential Ultramontanist, who once exclaimed, “I should like a new Papal Bull every morning with my Times at breakfast.”
Austin Ivereigh is the ultimate apologist for the Bergoglian mode of governance, while the disgraced Father Thomas Rosica uttered this shameless assertion in 2018: “Pope Francis breaks Catholic traditions whenever he wants because he is free from disordered attachments. Our Church has indeed entered a new phase. With the advent of this first Jesuit pope, it is openly ruled by an individual rather than by the authority of Scripture alone or even its own dictates of tradition plus Scripture.”
That’s blasphemy, surpassing any blasphemy that Father Pavone could have spoken.
Meanwhile, Jesuit Father James Martin continues, unimpeded, to lead others into grave sin and Jesuit Father Marko Rupnik goes on his merry way after sexually abusing young nuns and even absolving one in Confession. The double standard and abuse of authority lead to disrespect and disregard for legitimate exercises of authority. In the next conclave, there must be a clarion call to prevent a future pope from such behavior.
Writing to Lady Simeon on November 18, 1870, Newman said the following about Pius IX: “We have come to a climax of tyranny. It is not good for a pope to live 20 years. It is anomaly and bears no good fruit; he becomes a god, has no one to contradict him, does not know facts, and does cruel things without meaning it.”
And, in his 1874 Letter to the Duke of Norfolk, Newman declared, without fear of contradiction “But a pope is not infallible in his laws, nor in his commands, nor in his acts of state, nor in his administration, nor in his public policy. Let it be observed that the [First] Vatican Council has left him just as it found him here.”
Unfortunately, Newman himself suffered from Roman chicanery and shenanigans. In fact, he was being investigated for heresy without even being informed! Such experiences caused him to say:
I fear that in one sense the iron has entered into my soul. I mean that confidence in any superiors whatever never can blossom again within me. I never shall feel easy with them. I shall, I feel, always think they will be taking some advantage of me. . . .[I]t is my highest gain and most earnest request to them, that they would let me alone. . . .Whether or not they will consent to this is more than I can say, for they seem to wish to ostracise me.
Newman’s total vindication did indeed come, with another pope, Leo XIII, who created Newman as the first cardinal of his pontificate. With no small measure of relief and joy, the elder churchman declared: “The cloud is lifted from me forever.”
Father Pavone has expressed the hope that the next pope could undo the damage done by the present one. He should take comfort from the experience of Cardinal Newman, even as he seeks his intercession.
You may also enjoy:
David Carlin’s A Golden Opportunity Lost
James H. Toner’s Callused Consciences