Thursday, February 8, 2018

On "The Dictator Pope"

The author's name, "Marcantonio Colonna", is a pseudonym. Having finished the book, particularly the stunning accounts of Francis' vindictiveness and the fate of those who have crossed him -- it occurs to me that the author was wise to write under a pseudonym. (According to the LifeSite news exclusive interview, the real Marcantonio Colonna was born in 1535, an Italian aristocrat who served as a Viceroy of Sicily, best remembered for his service as admiral of the papal fleet in the Battle of Lepanto). The author writes with the stated intent of "[exposing] the myth of the supposedly liberal Pope who was elected in 2013 and to urge the cardinals at the next Conclave to avoid electing an unknown figure who turns out to be quite different from what he had been thought."

Why the title? -- according to the author, who has researched Bergoglio's past, "Bergoglio is ... very much the product of the peculiar political culture of Argentina, formed by the populist dictator Juan Perón, of whom Bergoglio was a follower from his early years, and whom he very much resembles in his style of government." Cultivating (with the help of the media) an image of mercy, kindness and openness, Francis in private reveals himself to be rather the opposite:

[Francis] had long been known in his native Argentina as a manipulative politician and a skilful self-presenter. Behind the mask of a genial man of the people, Pope Francis has consolidated his position as a dictator who rules by fear and has allied himself with the most corrupt elements in the Vatican to prevent and reverse the reforms that were expected of him.

Bad papist that I am, I admit to having not kept up with the latest news of Francis' pontificate over the past several years -- between the frequent denunciations of the "trads" and the repetitive -- or should I say interpretive -- apologetics of the pro-Francis contingent (ex. "he may have said X, but what he REALLY meant was X"), following along got so tiring after a while. That being said, The Dictator Pope offers a remarkable opportunity for everybody who has kept their head in the sand to acquaint themselves with all the major issues and scandals that has rocked the pontificate. Philip Lawler -- whose journalistic work I'm familiar with -- attests to the accuracy of the author's reporting, "he clearly knows his way around the Vatican, and has excellent sources inside the Roman Curia"; likewise Robert Royal acknowledges in his review: "It sometimes stretches evidence, but the sheer amount of evidence it provides is stunning. About 90 percent of it is simply incontrovertible, and cannot help but clarify who Francis is and what he’s about."

Even if you exclude from consideration the author's conspiratorial portrayal of the "St. Gallen Group" -- a conspiracy of bishops who identified and lobbied for Bergoglio as candidate to push reforms in opposition to the pontificate of Ratzinger -- or the shocking (but as yet undocumented) claim that "Peter's Pence" were diverted to fund Hillary Clinton's electoral campaign, there are enough publically known and footnoted points of concern here that would alarm all but the most furvent Francis-apologists.

Beyond the accounts of financial corruption at the highest levels; the papal manipulations of the Bishop's Synod and tolerance (even promotion) of permissive interpretations of Amoris Laetitita; the liberalized "reform" of the John Paul II Institute on Marriage and the Family; the papal repression of a Franciscan religious order after it expressed its wish to celebrate mass under the old rite (or "Extraordinary Form") -- I would have to say the most disappointing, upsetting subject was Francis' deficient response to the crisis of sexual abuse within the Catholic church.

According to the author, the CDF under Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger was the first to take the crisis seriously, adopting a hardline response and imposing a policy of "zero tolerance":

"According to data presented by the CDF to the UN Human Rights Commission in January 2014, Benedict XVI had defrocked or suspended more than 800 priests for past sexual abuse between 2009 and 2012. In 2011, the CDF sent a letter to the world’s bishops’ conferences, asking them to adopt stringent guidelines on how to respond to allegations that were to include assistance to victims, protection of minors, education of future priests and religious, and collaboration with civil authorities. The guidelines required bishops to forward all new cases to civil authorities and to the CDF. In a March 2010 pastoral letter to Ireland’s Catholics, Benedict criticised the lax application of the Church’s laws by bishops, whose failures had “seriously undermined your credibility and effectiveness.” He noted a “misguided tendency” against applying canonical punishments that he said was due to “misinterpretations of the Second Vatican Council.”
(On this topic, see also: Pope Benedict XVI and the Sexual Abuse Crisis: Working for Reform and Renewal Our Sunday Visitor, 2010).

Appallingly, Benedict's "this reform of accountability appears to have evaporated with Benedict’s resignation":

... in the name of his favourite theme, “mercy,” Francis decisively broke with the Ratzinger/Benedict programme of reform, reducing the penalty for priest abusers to “a lifetime of prayer” and restrictions on celebrating Mass. In February 2017 it was revealed that Francis had “quietly reduced sanctions against a handful of paedophile priests, applying his vision of a merciful church even to its worst offenders.
The author cites Associated Press’s Nicole Winfield's article, "Pope quietly trims sanctions for sex abusers seeking mercy", noting that Francis has "surrounded himself with cardinal advisers who botched handling abuse cases in their archdioceses." Moreover,
... Francis scrapped the [sexual abuse advisory] commission’s proposed tribunal for bishops who botch abuse cases following legal objections from the congregation. The commission’s other major initiative — a guideline template to help dioceses develop policies to fight abuse and safeguard children — is gathering dust. The Vatican never sent the template to bishops’ conferences, as the commission had sought, or even linked it to its main abuse-resource website.
(It's also worth noting that, post-publication of The Dictator Pope, this topic has resurfaced this past week with yet another instance of Francis' inattention and disregard to the gravity of the issue, failing to either read or act on an eight page letter from a victim detailing his abuse and a diocese' inaction).

Returning to the general topic of the Francis pontificate, I found this book a rewarding, disturbing-if-not-particularly-surprising, read. Two other critical books are slated to come out this year, Phillip Lawler's Lost Shepherd: How Pope Francis is Misleading His Flock (February 2018) and Ross Douthat's To Change the Church: Pope Francis and the Future of Catholicism (March 2018). I'll be curious to see how this measures up to them.

The Dictator Pope - On a related note:



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