Anonymous Cardinal ‘Demos II’ Proposes Agenda for Next Pope

Forward-looking in nature, the text offers seven suggested tasks for the next successor of St. Peter.

Statue of St. Peter in St. Peter’s Square
Statue of St. Peter in St. Peter’s Square (photo: Unsplash)

In March 2022, the late Cardinal George Pell published an at-the-time anonymous critique of Pope Francis’ pontificate under the pseudonym “Demos.”

Now, another cardinal, who identifies himself as “Demos II,” has published another anonymous screed. This one, however, is more forward-looking in nature and offers seven suggested tasks for the next successor of St. Peter.

The anonymous cardinal published his text, titled “The Vatican Tomorrow,” in six languages on the Italian “Bussola Quotidiana” (“Daily Compass”) website.

“In March 2022, an anonymous text appeared — signed under the pseudonym ‘Demos’ and titled ‘The Vatican Today’ — that raised a series of serious questions and criticisms about the pontificate of Pope Francis. Conditions in the Church since that text appeared have not materially changed, much less improved,” the document begins.

Demos II observes that there are aspects of the current pontificate that are positive, such as the concern Pope Francis has for the weakest and poorest, along with environmental issues, but that “its shortcomings are equally obvious.”

Those shortcomings include “an autocratic, at times seemingly vindictive, style of governance; a carelessness in matters of law; an intolerance for even respectful disagreement; and — most seriously — a pattern of ambiguity in matters of faith and morals causing confusion among the faithful.”

Demos II Recommends Recovering Essential Truths

The anonymous author calls on the next pope to work to recover and reestablish the following truths that he says have been “obscured or lost among many Christians”:

1) No one is saved except through, and only through, Jesus Christ, as he himself made clear.

2) God is merciful but also just and is intimately concerned with every human life. He forgives but he also holds us accountable; he is both Savior and Judge. 

3) Man is God’s creature, not a self-invention, a creature not merely of emotion and appetites but also of intellect, free will and an eternal destiny. 

4) Unchanging objective truths about the world and human nature exist and are knowable through divine Revelation and the exercise of reason.

5) God’s word, recorded in Scripture, is reliable and has permanent force.

6) Sin is real and its effects are lethal.

7) His Church has both the authority and the duty to “make disciples of all nations.” 

Demos II Expounds Upon Recommendations for Next Pope

1) Regarding the authority of the pope

“The pope is a successor of Peter and the guarantor of Church unity. But he is not an autocrat. He cannot change Church doctrine, and he must not invent or alter the Church’s discipline arbitrarily,” Demos II declares.

“He governs the Church collegially with his brother bishops in local dioceses. And he does so always in faithful continuity with the Word of God and Church teaching. ‘New paradigms’ and ‘unexplored new paths’ that deviate from either are not of God,” the author points out.

Demos II goes on to call on the next pope to “restore the hermeneutic of continuity in Catholic life and reassert Vatican II’s understanding of the papacy’s proper role.”

The Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) is considered one of the most important events in the contemporary history of the Church. The documents that emerged from it aimed to promote the Catholic faith in the world, renew Christian life, adapt the liturgy, and encourage the action of the laity in the Church.

2) The Church is not a democracy.

“Just as the Church is not an autocracy, neither is she a democracy,” Demos II states. “The Church belongs to Jesus Christ. She is his Church. She is Christ’s mystical body, made up of many members. We have no authority to refashion her teachings to fit more comfortably with the world.”

“Moreover,” the author continues, “the Catholic ‘sensus fidelium’ is not a matter of opinion surveys nor even the view of a baptized majority.”

3) Ambiguity is neither evangelical nor welcoming. 

“Ambiguity is neither evangelical nor welcoming. Rather, it breeds doubt and feeds schismatic impulses,” Demos II writes, adding that doctrinal issues ”are vital to living a Christian life authentically, because they deal with applications of the truth, and the truth demands clarity.”

“The dismantling and repurposing of Rome’s John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family and the marginalizing of texts like Veritatis Splendor suggest an elevation of ‘compassion’ and emotion at the expense of reason, justice, and truth. For a creedal community, this is both unhealthy and profoundly dangerous,” Demos II points out.

In 2019, new statutes for the John Paul II Institute were established along with a series of changes in the academic program such as the elimination of the chair on fundamental moral theology, which have posed “a danger to maintaining the heritage” of the Polish saint on studies on marriage and the family, as a prominent priest noted at the time.

The encyclical Veritatis Splendor (The Splendor of Truth) was published by St. John Paul II in 1993 and explained, among other things, that there are acts that are always “intrinsically evil,” a teaching that some try to refute.

4) Canon law

“Among the marks of the current pontificate are its excessive reliance on the motu proprio as a tool for governance and a general carelessness and distaste for canonical detail,” Demos II observes.

“Again, as with ambiguity of doctrine, disregard for canon law and proper canonical procedure undermines confidence in the purity of the Church’s mission,” the author states, noting, “Canon law orders Church life, harmonizes its institutions and procedures, and guarantees the rights of believers.”

5) Theology of the body

After noting that the Church is “mother and teacher,” the alleged cardinal author of the text stresses that “she can never be reduced to a system of flexible ethics or sociological analysis and remodeling to fit the instincts and appetites (and sexual confusions) of an age.”

“One of the key flaws in the current pontificate,” Demos II maintains, “is its retreat from a convincing ‘theology of the body’ and its lack of a compelling Christian anthropology ... precisely at a time when attacks on human nature and identity, from transgenderism to transhumanism, are mounting.”

The theology of the body is a compilation of the catechesis that St. John Paul II gave during the Wednesday general audiences from 1979 to 1984 in response to the results of the sexual revolution of the late 1960s.

6) Papal duties, travel

“Global travel served a pastor like Pope John Paul II so well,” Demos II notes, “because of his unique personal gifts and the nature of the times. But the times and circumstances have changed.”

“The Vatican itself urgently needs a renewal of its morale, a cleansing of its institutions, procedures, and personnel, and a thorough reform of its finances to prepare for a more challenging future,” the author indicates.

“These are not small things. They demand the presence, direct attention, and personal engagement of any new pope,” Demos II emphasizes.

7) College of Cardinals

“The College of Cardinals exists to provide senior counsel to the pope and to elect his successor upon his death. That service requires men of clean character, strong theological formation, mature leadership experience, and personal holiness,” the anonymous author declares.

“It also requires a pope,” he continues, “willing to seek advice and then to listen.”

“The current pontificate has placed an emphasis on diversifying the college, but it has failed to bring cardinals together in regular consistories designed to foster genuine collegiality and trust among brothers. As a result, many of the voting electors in the next conclave will not really know each other, and thus may be more vulnerable to manipulation,” the supposed cardinal warns.

Why Did Demos II Write Anonymously?

“The answer should be evident from the tenor of today’s Roman environment: Candor is not welcome, and its consequences can be unpleasant,” the author explains.

Demos II points out that “the current pontificate’s heavy dependence on the Society of Jesus, the recent problematic work by the DDF’s [Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith] Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández, and the emergence of a small oligarchy of confidants with excessive influence within the Vatican — all despite synodality’s decentralizing claims, among other things” — are real issues.

Argentine Cardinal Fernández is the current prefect of the DDF and is responsible for the December 2023 declaration Fiducia Supplicans, which has sparked controversy throughout the world for its authorization of nonliturgical blessings for same-sex couples and those in “irregular situations.”