Pope Francis’ ‘Paradigm Shift’: What it Means and How to Respond to It

“The evolution in the Church's understanding of the Gospel over the centuries is not a question of a paradigm shift, but of the development of doctrine, organic and in continuity with the faith.”

Msgr. Nicola Bux addressing the Nov. 29 conference in Rome.
Msgr. Nicola Bux addressing the Nov. 29 conference in Rome. (photo: Edward Pentin photo)

To contend with the current crisis in the Church, it is necessary to proclaim the truth and resist any “paradigm shift” that distorts the truths of the faith. 

This was the advice given by Msgr. Nicola Bux, a respected theological consultor to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, at a Nov. 29 Rome conference on Pope Francis’ pontificate.   

The centerpiece of the conference, hosted by the Tradition, Family, and Property lay movement and the Lepanto Foundation, was José Antonio Ureta’s book Pope Francis’ Paradigm Shift: Continuity or Rupture in the Mission of the Church? — An Assessment of his Five-year Pontificatea work which Msgr. Bux described as a “valuable tool” for understanding Francis’ first half-decade as pontiff. 

Msgr. Bux, who was a consultor to the Congregation of the Doctrine for the Faith under Benedict XVI, said the key to understanding this pontificate is realizing what this “paradigm shift” means. 

Although not formally defined, it is widely believed to refer to a “pastoral conversion” in which pastoral approaches to concrete situations take precedence over doctrine or legal structures. 

According to Ureta, this paradigm shift (once described by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin as a “new spirit, this new approach”) is “above all an inversion of factors: doctrine and the law must be subordinate to the lived life of contemporary man.” 

But according to Msgr. Bux, such a concept presents a number of dangers. He referred to a recent reflection by Stanislaw Grygiel, a professor of philosophical anthropology and longtime friend of Pope St. John Paul II, who wrote that by submitting divine reason to pastoral praxis, the “Person of Christ becomes just one opinion or hypothesis that was applied yesterday but no longer today.”   

In effect, Grygiel wrote, it is a Marxist principle — that man’s social practice alone is the criterion of the truth — which has entered the Church and become popular with “many Latin American professors.” It is a “metaphysical and anthropological error” hardly recognized by students, Grygiel added, something “they will pay dearly for, and unfortunately we will pay for, as well.” 


Creeping Marxism

“Marxism has crept into the mentality of Western intellectuals and of many men of the Church, so as to induce them in their practice to modify the doctrine of the Church, that is, the Person of Christ,” Grygiel wrote, referring to Karol Wojtyla’s Sign of Contradiction, Spiritual Exercises to Paul VI in 1976. “The confusion that follows constitutes the greatest danger for the Church.” 

“So what must we do?,” asked Msgr. Bux. “Always proclaim the truth because ‘the truth will set you free,’” he said. By contrast, to be “silent when one has to speak is just as vile a lie as to speak when one has to be silent,” he warned.

He also reminded those present that John Paul II “never used words of compromise” when defending the truth of the person. “He was not a Peronist,” Msgr. Bux said. “Therefore the error we are witnessing in the Church allows us to detach man from the truth and chain him to praxis, which decides how man and things should be.”

Furthermore, Msgr. Bux noted, “every praxis that produces truth is reduced to politics,” and proposed that this is, in essence “the paradigm shift of Pope Francis.” Drawing on Ureta’s book, he further pointed out that for Francis, “truth is a relationship” and therefore “relative.” 

“Thus, the prevailing perspective in which he [Francis] moves is politics, whether it be political or ecclesiastical questions, of Venezuela, of Ukraine or China,” Msgr. Bux explained. 

And again quoting Grygiel, he said that Pope St. John Paul II “never did politics” because for him, being a priest, bishop and then Peter meant entrusting his work “to the truth of man, revealed in the Person of Christ.” This enabled him to be “one of the greatest politicians” able to “change the world.” Furthermore, the fear of God kept him from “adding something of himself” to the Word of God. “Christ is to be worshipped, not modified,” Grygiel wrote. “John Paul did not adapt Christ to the world.” 

Msgr. Bux went on to explain that only through conversion to the love of God can true dialogue take place, otherwise the Church is turned into a “mere human organism, reduced to a bureaucratic organization,” and is not able to “realize the sanctification of the world.” 

He asserted that orthodoxy puts forward the notion that the faith “continually” has the ability to “judge the world” but today, the opposite has happened. Instead of “purifying the humanist values of modernity with the Catholic faith,” he added, perhaps without wishing it, Paul VI and the Second Vatican Council actually brought about postmodernity, the fruit of which was this “paradigm shift.” 

He argued that this has led to a sense within the Church that to oppose the world is something negative, “to be overcome in the name of tranquillity,” but this is contrary to the belief that a Christian is a “foreigner in the world and can never rest easy, as John Paul II and Don Giussani [founder of the Communion and Liberation movement] agreed.” 


Mixing “Extreme Situations”

Elaborating on this point, Msgr. Bux said the “radical paradigm shift” now in vogue means to “believe in an urgency” to bring justice to the world in terms of “eliminating poverty, or of fair trade, fraternity,” or mixing it with “extreme situations” such as “migrants, homosexuals, divorcees.” Yet often one does not hear the words “Jesus Christ,” he observed, and the Mass is “reduced to a television show with dance and applause.” And all this is happening, he said, “while in the world reference to God is absent” and the world itself “becomes more and more indifferent, an enemy of the Church, of religion, of the faith, of God.” 

He went on to refer to words of Eugenio Scalfari, who said after one of his interviews with the Pope, that Francis was pushing for a “change” in the “concept of religion and divinity” that would result in a “cultural change” that would be difficult to modify. “If that were to happen,” Msgr. Bux warned, “the consequences would be catastrophic.”  

Already, he said, the missionary drive is “diminished, a sign of a crisis of faith.” He then pointed out a stark contradiction in Francis’ words: on the one hand, in Evangelii Gaudium, he affirms that mission and proclamation of the Gospel are the “paradigm,” but on the other hand, and “in a Peronist way as they say in Buenos Aires,” he has said there is “no Catholic God” and that proselytism “is a solemn nonsense; not to convert but to serve, to walk together.” 

Msgr. Bux then drew further on St. John Paul II, in particular a quotation from his encyclical Veritatis Splendor: “The unity of the Church is damaged not only by Christians who reject or distort the truths of faith but also by those who disregard the moral obligations to which they are called by the Gospel.” 

He also addressed Ureta’s recommendation in his book to resist those Church leaders who read the “paradigm shift” as a “rupture” with the Church’s teaching and tradition. 

Msgr. Bux made the point that the Holy Spirit “was not promised to Peter's successors to reveal a new doctrine, but to guard the deposit of faith.” And quoting recent comments of Cardinal Gerhard Müller, the former prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Fatih, he noted that the Pope’s authority extends “over the revealed Faith of the Catholic Church and not over the individual theological opinions of himself or those of his advisers.”

Because of this, Msgr. Bux said, “there are occasions in which it is legitimate to prudently suspend assent.” When the Cross of Christ is “made vain,” in order not to lose faith he proposed “conscientious objection and fidelity to the Pope in spite of the Pope" — again quoting from Ureta’s book.

“The evolution in the Church's understanding of the Gospel over the centuries is not a question of a paradigm shift,” he concluded, “but of the development of doctrine, organic and in continuity with the faith.”