Blog #373: Intentionally “Making a Mess” Within the Church

With the December 2023 paper coming from the Vatican (entitled “Fiducia Supplicans” and ghost-written by Pope Francis’ most recent appointment to the order of Cardinals, his close friend from Argentina, Cardinal Victor Fernandez) and breathlessly reported by the media that bishops should now bless same-sex unions (though that is not exactly what was said), it reminds me that at the Roman Catholic “World Youth Day” held in Rio de Janeiro, this pope directed the gathered young people to “go make a mess of the church”. Cy Kellett, the host of Catholic Answers Live writes, “I have been traveling more than usual the last two months, visiting parishes in various places around the country, and, of course, I get to talk with Catholics every day on the radio. With this experience in mind, I must admit, I wince a little whenever Pope Francis makes the news. He once asked young people to go make a mess, and the man follows his own advice. Although I believe there is some method to his mess-making—he clearly believes that Christianity is in a kind of doldrums and needs to be aroused to face new challenges amidst new realities—I also think that his method involves “creative destruction.” He imposes heavy burdens. He must know that his actions will create immense noise and confusion, and yet he asks the faithful to remain sanguine despite it all. Is that fair? At every talk I give, I meet people who are at their wits’ end with Francis and people who are at their wits‘ end with those who oppose Francis. Everybody seems on edge. This isn’t helping. Fiducia Supplicans, in my view, is basically correct in its approach to blessings—if what it’s saying is that Pope Francis wants people to receive the blessings of the Church without priests actually blessing sinful unions. But it will take a generation, at least, for the Church to work through all the creative interpretations and abuses that will now follow. Is Pope Francis comfortable with this reality? His actions don’t indicate otherwise. I admit that I am not, and I admit that I am concerned that too much is being asked of the sheep of Christ’s flock—a flock already forced to endure decades of scandal, court-imposed financial wounds, and media derision.”

The fact that the Roman Catholics bishops of every country in Africa, as well as in important Roman Catholic countries such as Poland, Hungary, and Kazakhstan, plus individual bishops throughout the rest of the Roman Catholic world have all condemned the “Fiducia Supplicans” document and have stated that they will not bless same-sex unions, makes me wonder why the Pope would have allowed it to be published in the first place. Did he not “test the waters”? Or, was he simply trying to push the envelope in his hope that someone would “make a mess of the church”? As the bishops of those African countries (by the way, the only continent on earth that the Roman Catholic Church has been growing) complained, their churches are competing with Islam and with Protestant Evangelical, Charismatic, and Pentecostal churches – all of whom oppose blessing same-sex unions and who are reflect the common mores of their people. They claim that the Vatican has weakened their witness to the searching people in their countries. When the 8-page Fiducia Supplicans document was released in December it was with the note that there would be no further discussion on its contents. The Vatican clearly believed that once the Pope said a thing, it would not be questioned, but the furious backlash to it has caused the Vatican to, three weeks’ later, write a 5-page explanation and defense of the paper, in which it backtracks radically from the perceived understanding of it, for example, by seeking to affirm that marriage between a male and a female is still the only acceptable union and that the “blessing” prayers are to be for individuals only, no matter what union they may be in, a practice the Roman Catholic Church has practiced since the 1960’s.

So, why did the Pope allow this document to be released? It goes back to his direction to the young people at that famous 2014 Youth Conference to “make a mess of the church”. With this new document, we need to ask, why would the Vatican be willing to cause scandal? Did it not know what consequences Fiducia Supplicans would produce? I don’t think it did. I believe that the writer of that document, with the Pope’s blessing, was hoping that in the pre-Christmas busyness people would simply shrug their shoulders and let it pass without comment. Besides which, the Pope’s word is not to be questioned, is how they believed Roman Catholics would think. However, I also believe that this current regime in power in the Vatican does not believe in moral violations in the sexual realm. Anything goes is what is being continuously hinted at. Here is one telltale sign of that: the word “repent” is noticeably absent from the document. Instead of claiming, as the Vatican did, that the African bishops were merely confused in their interpretation of the Fiducia Supplicans document, perhaps the Vatican should have seen that those protesting bishops were not confused at all. They see this document for what it is and they reject it for the blasphemy that it is.

That this Pope wants the church to change is fine. However, unfortunately, (at least, in my view), instead of calling for spiritual change in the church from inside the individuals in the church as they repent of their sins and get right with God – as his immediate predecessors did – this Pope wants the church to change by embracing the mores of society. The responses by Roman Catholics around the world to the teachings of the pope in the Fiducia Supplicans document indicates that this wish of the Vatican leaders will not end well for either the pope or the church. “Der Spiegl”, a very influential German publication, published an article about the current crisis in the Roman Catholic Church, to include a growing resistance to Pope Francis’ proposed and actual reforms. At the end of this article its author, Der Spiegel’s correspondent in Italy, Walter Mayr, reveals an important leak: In a very small circle, Pope Francis is said to have self-critically further explained himself as follows: “It is not to be excluded that I will enter history as the one who split the Catholic Church.” The very open and smoldering indignation Pope Francis has caused within the Catholic Church is a major concern. Let us pray for God’s “will to be done, and His kingdom to come” (as Jesus instructs) within the Roman Catholic Church.

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