Msgr. Charles Pope is currently a dean and pastor in the Archdiocese of Washington, DC, where he has served on the Priest Council, the College of Consultors, and the Priest Personnel Board. Along with publishing a daily blog at the Archdiocese of Washington website, he has written in pastoral journals, conducted numerous retreats for priests and lay faithful, and has also conducted weekly Bible studies in the U.S. Congress and the White House. He was named a Monsignor in 2005.
I, like many of you, feel overwhelmed by the events of the past month in Rome. Many an evening, late into the night, I have come before the Lord in the rectory chapel in lament for the confusion and chaos in the Church, the Lord’s beautiful bride and our mother. Oftentimes too in the fourth watch of the night, between 3 and 4 a.m., I return to the chapel, for with my cares I cannot long rest.
Reported from Rome are terrible and seemingly impious things at worst, and confusing and ambiguous things at best. In the final document of the synod are included proposals for married priests on a wide scale and women “deacons.” The Church is currently deeply divided and, I would argue, on the brink of schism, if the Pope includes such proposals in his apostolic exhortation and plan. We must pray for him as never before to hold the line, much as Pope Paul VI miraculously held the line in 1968 when he wrote Humanae Vitae, upholding the Church’s perennial view of the nature and purpose of human sexuality and the ancient forbiddance of contraception. He did this against pressure from the spirit of the age — a pressure that was even stronger than the pressure Pope Francis currently encounters. And, like Francis, Paul VI was no conservative and was very friendly with the agents of radical change. This makes Humanae Vitae all the more miraculous, and we must allow this to give us hope now that Pope Francis will issue a document that does not take us over the brink.
But frankly, it would seem it is going to take a miracle. Pope Francis is deeply enmeshed in the Amazon Synod and its outcomes. It is clear that the Synod was stacked with liberal — even radical — members and that all the matters that ordinary Catholics feared going into the synod have been realized. Pope Francis was certainly at the helm in this Synod and seems to have learned his lessons well at previous Synods where he was publicly resisted. There was a tight leash on the proceedings and press conferences were highly scripted. Catholic reporters did a worthy job, asking often tough questions. The usual reply to these questions by the hand-picked press panel was to express surprise and outrage that such questions were even raised. The whole process has been steeped with the jargon and ambiguity that is the hallmark of this papacy.
And the ambiguity reaches to the most serious matters. Even well before the Synod assembly there were claims in the media that the pope holds annihilationism (that God simply annihilates the souls that choose hell). And even worse, that the Eternal Son, Jesus was not divine. Do not such wild claims that the Pope holds such views, touching on the deepest roots of our faith, deserve immediate disavowal from the Pope himself? At the very least we deserve more than the vague assertions by the Vatican that these remarks attributed may not be accurate. Really? Is that the best we can get? Do not the faithful need and require a clear reiteration of the truth? And should not such a disavowal of error and reiteration of the truth also include a clear rebuke of Eugenio Scalfari, the journalist for his deeply erroneous reporting? Yet, not only is he not corrected and rebuked, he remains esteemed and is granted repeated access to the Holy Father — an access some of his own cardinals and bishops are refused. The point is that matters like these are not handled forthrightly and clearly. Instead, they are left in a fog of ambiguity.
Add to all this the appalling event in the Vatican Gardens, attended by the Holy Father and a number of Synod participants and fathers. There are pictures of some of them, bowing fully prostrate before a wooden statue of a naked, pregnant woman. After weeks of silence we are told by the Pope that this was not idolatry and there was no idolatrous intention. But then why did people, including priests, prostrate before it? Why was the statue carried in procession into churches like St. Peter’s Basilica and placed before altars at Santa Maria in Traspontina? And if it isn’t an idol of Pachamama (an earth/mother goddess from the Andes), why did the Pope call the image “Pachamama?” What am I to think? And why am I not reassured by the ambiguous and contradictory statements? How is this not analogous to the “abomination or desolation” that foretold the destruction of Jerusalem (cf. Matthew 24:15)? To any average person this has idolatry written all over it. Simply saying there is no idolatrous “intention” does not remove what the eye can plainly see. I would be shocked even to see the faithful prostrating before statues of the saints. Kneeling can indicate mere prayer, but prostration — which photos of the event seem to clearly depict — indicate full worship of adoration.
These are but three very grave matters that touch on the divinity of Christ, the First Commandment, the doctrine of hell and the very nature of Holy Orders. God’s faithful deserve more than ambiguous and confusing replies.
Much analysis will be made of the 33-page Synod report. But in a certain sense the report doesn’t matter. Everything depends on the Pope now; everything is on his desk. Reports that the apostolic exhortation will come soon suggest he has already written the bulk of it — maybe even before the Synod took place.
No one would have dreamed that Pope Paul VI would have decided the way he did in 1968. Humanae Vitae stunned the world. We must pray for a miraculous stunner now as well.
Pray for an apostolic exhortation that glorifies and lifts up Jesus as the only way to salvation. An exhortation that focuses not merely on a clean environment but purified souls. An exhortation that doesn’t speak of listening to the spirits of the rainforest, but of listening to Jesus, the Eternal Word of the Father. An exhortation that summons us to prayer, to the sacraments, to the Word of God and to the ancient and perennial teachings of the Church. Pray for an exhortation that casts aside Pachamama and points to Mary, who leads us to her Son!
Let us pray: Help us, Lord. Save us and have mercy on us, and draw us back from the brink. We acknowledge our sins Lord and that all of us have fallen short of the glory and holiness to which you have summoned us. But now, on the edge of a precipice, we pray for a miracle — indeed, Lord, one that will stun the world. Guide the Holy Father, who now writes an apostolic exhortation, and may his thoughts be directed only to you and the precious faith you have revealed. Lord, we are poor and needy — whom do we have but you, O Lord? To whom else can we turn? In these times of deep confusion and division we ask a miracle, Lord — yes, a miracle.
Mother Mary, intercede for us. Amen.