Synods on the Family
While the lengthy treatment of the 2014 and 2015 Synods on the family are required reading for Catholic critics of Bergoglio, I will not spend time reviewing that part of the book (central though it is). It clearly involves an extraordinary change in Catholic doctrine, achieved by completely political methods, and the complexity needs reading in full if you are a Catholic. If you are not, you might possibly dismiss all the arguments on the understandable basis that Catholic doctrine is outdated. But that was the whole issue.
The end product was a change of moral and doctrinal position, yet Bergoglio did not have the courage or the decency to announce it, but left Catholics to form their own conclusions about how they were left at the end of it. This was probably the most cowardly episode in Bergoglio’s papacy, but because I am more able to comment on the matters that he turns to next, my review majors on another matter.
The tyrannical destruction of the Franciscans of the Immaculate
In Chapter 5 of the book, Henry Sire takes a detailed look at the suppression of one of the most lively and successful religious and evangelical movements in Catholic post Vatican II history: the Franciscans of the Immaculate.
Having had experience of the old branches of the Franciscan orders in both the UK and Italy (the Order of Friars Minor, the OFM Conventuals and the Capuchins; in the Franciscan Study Centre Canterbury, the OFM novitiate in Chilworth UK and Spoleto, as well as the Friars of the Atonement in Assisi, Rome and New York), I could only see the charism of the Franciscan brothers and sisters of the Immaculate as something that resembled the original vision of Saint Francis. They were committed to traditional liturgical renewal, and hundreds of new vocations were attracted by traditional Catholicism and were relieved when the previous pope Benedict XVI gave them freedom to celebrate the pre-Vatican II Mass.
These brothers and sisters and the thousands of secular Catholics who were inspired by their movement became an unlikely target for pope Bergoglio in his early days in the role of “humble shepherd who smelled of his sheep.” (See Roberto de Mattei, 2013, for more details.)
In retrospect, they were the most obvious target. As a most holy movement, they were the very people the devil would first hope to destroy in his guise of “Shepherd”. These are my words, not the words of Henry Sire, who could not possibly comment, or who understates it more subtly than I could ever do!
If you read this blog as a non-Catholic, and you vaguely remember seeing the film The Name of the Rose (the film of Umberto Eco’s novel of the same name), the scenes involving the Dominican Inquisitor sent in to scourge the purist Franciscan Spirituals – regarded as “heretics” because they maintained the rule of Saint Francis saying the order should not own property – is mild compared to the barbarism of the Capuchin thug Father Volpi sent in by pope Bergoglio to destroy the vibrant communities of young Franciscan brothers and sisters of the Immaculate. They also, by the way, said they should not own property, for they knew it was the means by which the Church could control them. I’ll leave the topic here, as I could write ten blogs about the obscenities this pope is responsible for on this matter.
Henry Sire’s most poignant pages then follow, as he watches his own order, the Knights of Malta, destroyed in a similar act of papal vandalism. This also involves a complicated financial scam, from which the Bergoglio Vatican power elite gain a considerable sum of money. If you want to know more about the nobility and their gangster behaviour, this is the chapter for you!
In this chapter I also met with José Carballo once aga
in, the Minister General of the OFM Franciscans. As I walked through the snows over O Cebreiro into Galicia in 2007 on the Camino de Santiago, I was in correspondence with José Carballo beacuse I had just been thrown out of OFM formation and I presented the whole dossier to him as an appeal. He finally told me that he had upheld my complaints against the English province of OFM and offered me a chance to continue my Franciscan formation in the USA. I turned it down because I did not see why I should go to the other side of the world due to an incompetent and bullying regime of formation in OFM England. When I arrived in the OFM friary in Santiago in December 2007 bearing a letter from Carballo, I was put in the tramp’s quarters to stay the night. A singular honour I will never forget. (Sorry! Let’s return to the book.)
Henry Sire shows how José Carballo who bankrupted the Order of Friars Minor through maladministration of finances involving Swiss banks (yes this is the order of the Poor Man of Assisi…) was the first to be promoted by Bergoglio, to become the head of the Vatican dicastery for religious orders. Priceless, if you forgive the pun.
In Chapter 6 (subtly titled “Kremlin Santa Maria”) the scary key passage of Sire’s commentary on Bergoglio’s dictatorship is this:
“As Sandro Magister points out, there is a precedent for (…) papal zealots in the Catholic world: it is the Sodalitium Pianum which was formed in the reign of Pius X (1903–1914) to enforce that pope’s condemnation of Modernism. It acted by monitoring the lectures of seminary professors and reporting to the authorities any utterances that seemed to fall short of orthodoxy, and it has been reviled ever since by liberals as an example of the intellectual reign of terror introduced by Pius X. In general terms, one might think it a shame that our own days should have produced an echo of what was hitherto considered the most restrictive pontificate of modern times; but the irony goes further. It is no doubt natural that a regime that insists on strict orthodoxy should be backed, however regrettably, by measures that savor of a police state; but the “Observatory” of this modern Big Brother has sprung up in the reign of the progressive, liberal Pope Francis, elected (…) to sweep back the alleged authoritarianism of Benedict XVI and John Paul II.” (p. 182).
A liberal Big Brother? Isn’t that going a bit far? As one of my enduring heroes is George Orwell (despite his many faults, and some of the dubious untruths of Homage to Catalonia), I cannot help wondering what he might have made of all this. As I said at the beginning of these three blogposts comprising my extended book review, I was never an admirer of Bergoglio. It seems there are fewer admirers of Bergoglio than I had imagined: “The official statistics for average attendance at these events since Francis became pope are: 2013: 51,617 2014: 27,883 2015: 14,818 For 2016 no figures have been made available, but they are understood to be under ten thousand: less than one-fifth of what they were four years ago, and in Benedict XVI’s time.” (pp. 185-186). He is reported to have remarked just before Christmas 2016: “It is not impossible that I will go down in history as the one who split the Catholic Church.”(p. 186). In the age of Trump and Brexit, it is not surprising that whole societies have become split down the middle. Shouldn’t we expect more than division from a pope?
I mistyped this as “concusion” first, and I do feel some mild concussion at the end of this exercise! I thank the Spectator‘s Damian Thompson for recommending the book. (He is also quoted twice in it, so I am sure he is keen on selling the book to promote himself. Sorry, couldn’t resist that, speaking as Frererabit, one of the old trolls from the 2010 Telegraph comment columns!)
Reading this has been a journey. Henry Sire’s book has shown me something that I never had seen before. I am a 1950s “baby boomer” who grew up in a liberal society which which was always the default position. We went through the consumer boom of the 1950s introduction of ITV television, through theTupperware revolution, to the Beatles Yellow Submarine and sexual liberation of the 1960s without any realisation that the liberal advances be interpreted differently.
What Henry Sire has truly shown me is that the liberals can become a more frightening form of dictatorship – especially when in league with an uninformed secular press – than anything the headbangers on the extreme right or left can achieve. And why? Because of our misplaced trust in reasonableness.
There is so much to think about in this book, but none greater than the final reflection: “Let us pray that, in following their consciences, the cardinals might never again place a dictator pope in the See of St. Peter.” (pp. 199-200)
A footnote on the author of this review:
While being a person without any noteworthy standing in the Church, I distinguished myself in 2009 by writing an article for The Tablet in which I related my experience of Catholic seminary life. I had been enrolled in the Beda College in Rome as a “late vocation” for the Archdiocese of Southwark, UK. In the article I explained why I was returning to the Church of England. I wrote this with an embarrassing personal agenda, as I can now own, which was seized upon by The Tablet editor Catherine Pepinster for political reasons. It would not have been published had it not been useful in the canon fire against traditional Catholics that autumn, as the Anglican Ordinariate was also being formed.
When I returned to the Catholic Church after a very brief time in a C of E monastery – where I was quickly reminded of everything I had converted for – I studied and found that I needed to reposition myself with the traditional Catholic voice. I had misunderstood the evil and confusing morass I had witnessed in Rome, attributing the errors to the wrong political and ecclesiastical currents. Later, in the online arguments nd caucus groups, I became disastrously isolated as a “traditionalist” player – having no real connection except online with traditional Catholics – and eventually walked away, licking my wounds but still sympathising with a traditional outlook.
Since I have been in Spain for the past eight years, I returned full circle to consider and reflect on my original vocational longings. A more contemplative and less polemical religious impulse is perhaps more suited to the man of 67 than the man of 33 who first read Merton’s Contemplation in a World of Action, as many other men have done (Hello Dave!) and instantly decided, “Yes it’s a monk’s life for me!” with neither the appropriate spiritual discernment nor the psychological stability to successfully begin any such project. I blame Thomas Merton myself: he was such a good writer and role model for the Trappist life!
So, where am I now as I complete my reading and this book review of Henry Sire’s gripping – if profoundly depressing – account of Bergoglio’s Vatican? Here in El Parral, a place of extraordinary silence, it is a day of continuous rain – for which we give thanks – and the sound of dripping pine trees and gurgling drains. The donkeys are in the stable, quietly looking out at me. And I thank God I am not in Rome.
But I am confirmed in my Catholicism by reading Henry Sire’s book. I am profoundly connected to my own Franciscan journey: particularly having revisited the pain of the persecution of the brothers and sisters of the Franciscans of the Immaculate, at the hands of this tyrant Bergoglio. And yes, in this desolate backwater of Catholicism that is now Spain, I am quietly sure that I am finally a long-term Remainer. No, I’m not talking about Brexit. I mean keeping with Tradition.