October 5, 2013   By C. Self, MTS, Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley
Pope Francis
True or False Prophet?
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The purpose of this article is not to answer that question, but to briefly present intriguing, perhaps concerning, introductory statements preceding the election of Pope Francis, followed by a critique of words from Pope Francis, himself, which have set the Church aflame with joy, anger, dissention, worry, relief--in a word, confusion.

Shortly before he died on October 3, 1226, St. Francis of Assisi prophesied that, in the future, a false pope would lead the Church. In 1969, a young Bavaraian theologian, Joseph Ratzinger, who became Pope Bendict XVI, prophesied a future minority Catholic Church with little influence over political decisions, that would be socially irrelevant, left humiliated, and forced to “start over," but would one day be reborn “simpler and more spiritual” after a period of “enormous confusion.” Pope Paul VI, in his homily on June 29, 1972, the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, made a famous remark about evil having entered the Vatican. The Holy Father publicly asserted that “from some fissure the smoke of Satan has entered into the temple of God.” (Insegnamenti, 1972, p. 707). Fr. Gobbi, the founder of the Marian Movement of Priests, who allegedly received locutions from the Virgin Mary, from July, 1973 to December, 1997, said that our heavenly Mother spoke many times of an imminent schism in the Catholic Church. These are chronicled in the book, To the Priests: Our Lady's Beloved Sons. The approved Marian apparition in Akita, Japan (1973-1981) contains the following prophecy: "The work of the devil will infiltrate even into the Church in such a way that one will see cardinals opposing cardinals, bishops against bishops."

On April 24, 2005, at the very start of his papacy, Pope Benedict XVI, in his homily of the Mass with imposition of the pallium," said these pleading words, "Pray for me, that I may not flee for fear of the wolves." On May 12th, 2010, in an interview on flight to Lisbon, Benedict stated: "We may see that attacks against the Pope and the Church do not only come from outside; rather, the sufferings of the Church come from inside the Church, from the sin that exists in the Church.”

And now at the head of the Catholic Church stands Pope Francis. Is he a true prophet, a man wed in mind and heart to teachings of Christ and His Church, or an agent of schism and apostasy? Time will tell. In almost no time at all, this Pope has been embraced and hailed as a saint. He has actively pursued interviews with the secular press and garnered the approval of the world. His words for the public at large, people of all faiths or no faith, are kind and gentle, while his words for God's Church are undeniably harsh and condeming. Never, it seems, has a pope been less vilified and more adorned with praise. Is this good or cause for concern? Does Scripture apply? "Blessed are you when people hate you, drive you out, abuse you, denounce you as criminal, on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice when that day comes and dance for joy, for then your reward will be great in heaven. This was the way their ancestors treated the prophets (. . .) Woe to you when the world speaks well of you. This was the way their ancestors treated the false prophets." --Luke 6: 20-26

The work of the Holy Spirit is not to breed turmoil and befuddlement, and yet this seems to be the prevailing fruit within the Church of the Pope's recent words to the secular media and the world.

Some of the Pope's comments are beautiful and true. Some are ambiguous and borderline heretical, thus subject to exploitation and misuse by those who do not accept the teachings of Christ. Following are some of Pope Francis' more troubling quotes from the Oct. 1, 2013 online edition of the Italian journal Repubblica, which he gave to the prominent atheist, Eugenio Scalfari, followed by quotes from from the the Pope's September 30, 2013, in person interview conducted by Antonio Spadaro, S.J. See: I have listed Pope Francis' words (in bold) contrasted with those of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and other popes and saints (shown in red). I have also highlighted and given commentary on words that seem to reflect errors in judgment. Let us pray for Pope Francis and all of our shepherds.

1) The most serious of the evils that afflict the world these days are youth unemployment and the loneliness of the old. . .This, to me, is the most urgent problem that the Church is facing. There are clearly greater evils than this facing the human person today, ones which involve the death of the body and the death of the soul.

2) Heads of the Church have often been narcissists, flattered and thrilled by their courtiers. The court is the leprosy of the papacy.
Harsh judgment and lack of mercy and charity in speaking of past popes and clergy. And who exactly is he referring to? Does this language help the Church and build it up in a world intent on tearing it down?

3) Vatican II, inspired by Pope Paul VI and John, decided to look to the future with a modern spirit and to be open to modern culture. The Council Fathers knew that being open to modern culture meant religious ecumenism and dialogue with non-believers. But afterwards very little was done in that direction. I have the humility and ambition to want to do something."
Self-referenced humility is pride. "Catch him at the moment when he is really poor in spirit and smuggle into his mind the gratifying reflection, 'By jove! I'm being humble,' and almost immediately pride — pride at his own humility — will appear." --C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (1942), page 69 in the Harper Collins 2001 edition

4) The Church should go back to being a community of God's people.
When exactly did she cease to be this?

5) Proselytism is solemn nonsense. We need to get to know each other, listen to each other and improve our knowledge of the world around us. ."
Contrast this with Scripture: "Do not be afraid. Go on speaking, and do not be silent." (Acts 18:9) For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” But how can they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach? And how can people preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring (the) good news!” (Romans 10:13-15)

Just before he ascended into heaven, Jesus told the apostles: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). Beginning on Pentecost, the apostles did just that, and the work of evangelization continues to this day. It is a calling that has not changed over the years, as Pope Paul VI affirmed in his letter On Evangelization in the Modern World: “We wish to confirm once more that the task of evangelizing all people constitutes the essential mission of the Church” (14). Evangelization is at the very heart of what it means to be followers of the Lord.

6) We have to encourage people to move towards what they think is Good and Everyone has his own idea of good and evil and must choose to follow the good and fight the evil as he conceives them. A conscience uninformed by the light of Truth is capable of slaughtering millions in the name of its own good. The Church is called to form peoples' consciences according to objective and eternal truths and goods so that they can choose what is truly consistent with human life and dignity. Even in “good faith,” many people mistake evil for good. While it is true that the Church respects human autonomy and affirms that even an erroneous conscience must be followed, the pope's statement sounds like moral subjectivism, even a kind of relativism. This is not the Church's teaching.

7) When asked if "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself" has happened, Francis said, Unfortunately, no. Is the pope really saying that the Church has failed in this practice since her beginning? Who is he condemning here?

When the reporter claimed that the institution [of the Church] dominates the poor, Francis said, In fact that is the way it is. Does the pope agree that Christ's Church oppresses the poor? Francis could have given a more truthful defense of the Church everywhere and in all ages as being the chief defender of the poor, more than any other institution on earth since the beginning of time.

9) Francis indicated that with his papacy: This is the beginning of a Church with an organization that is not just top-down but also horizontal. The Church has never neglected the horizontal aspect of her being. Is Francis referring to a democratization of Catholicism?

10) I believe in God, not in a Catholic God.
Okay, but that non-Catholic God decided to found the Catholic Church.

11) Our species will end, but the light of God will not end and at that point it will invade all souls and it will be in everyone.
This may be the most theologically off statement of the whole interview. "Our species" will, in fact, not end. Christianity teaches that we live forever and unite with our glorified bodies, and the light of God must be welcomed in by human beings given a free will to choose or reject it. The pope says unequivocally that the light of God will invade everyone. If this is so, then why believe in Christ, why be saved? There is no need.

Below are quotes from from the the pope's September 30, 2013, in person interview conducted by Antonio Spadaro, S.J. See:

1. To be sure, I have never been like Blessed Imelda [a goody-goody], but I have never been right-winger. It was my authoritarian way of making decisions that created problems. Is it appropriate for a Pope use such language, whether it be "right-wing," "liberal," "progressive," "conservative," in a negative tone to describe a good portion of his flock?

2. And all the faithful, considered as a whole, are infallible in matters of belief, and the people display this infallibilitas in credendo, this infallibility in believing, through a supernatural sense of the faith of all the people walking together. This is what I understand today as the ‘thinking with the church’ of which St. Ignatius speaks. This is almost true, but not quite:

The Church is infallible in her objective definitive teaching regarding faith and morals, not that believers are infallible in their subjective interpretation of her teaching. This is obvious in the case of individuals, any one of whom may err in his understanding of the Church's teaching; nor is the general or even unanimous consent of the faithful in believing a distinct and independent organ of infallibility. Such consent indeed, when it can be verified as apart, is of the highest value as a proof of what has been, or may be, defined by the teaching authority, but, except in so far as it is thus the subjective counterpart and complement of objective authoritative teaching, it cannot be said to possess an absolutely decisive dogmatic value.
(From the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia: )

3. To repeat the pope's last sentence, (see #2): This is what I understand today as the ‘thinking with the church’ of which St. Ignatius speaks. St. Ignatius of Loyola did not refer to 'thinking with the church' in the way Pope Francis refers to it. Pope Francis attributes his own thinking to the saint erroneously. In St. Ignatius' own words: “It is necessary that all the matters about which we wish to make an election [a decision or choice] should in themselves be either indifferent or good, so that they function constructively within our Holy Mother the hierarchical Church, and are not bad or opposed to her.” (from the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, #170)

The pope continues:
We should not even think, therefore, that ‘thinking with the church’ means only thinking with the hierarchy of the church.

4. You see, when I perceive negative behavior in ministers of the church or in consecrated men or women, the first thing that comes to mind is: ‘Here’s an unfruitful bachelor’ or ‘Here’s a spinster.’ They are neither fathers nor mothers, in the sense that they have not been able to give spiritual life. The pope consistently expresses an unabashed lack of mercy and harsh judgment towards fellow clergy and sisters. Did he not say, in love and mercy, in referring to people of a homosexual orientation, "Who am I to judge?"

5. I see clearly that the thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds.... And you have to start from the ground up. This is wonderful. But why leave out any mention of the next insinuated step of saving souls and bringing people to Christ, which is what ultimately heals peoples' wounds?

6. The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules. The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you. The "first proclamation" in the Gospels was not "Jesus Christ has saved you." The first words out of Jesus' mouth as He began His public ministry were, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Matthew, Chapter 4) "Jesus Christ has saved you." Yes, Jesus Christ died to save us, but salvation is not a guarantee. It is not a de facto past-tense given as the pope words it. The truth would be better stated as, "Jesus Christ came to save you." Salvation depends on the response of the human being. Question 9 in the Baltimore Catechism asks: "What must we do to save our souls?" The answer: "To save our souls we must worship God by faith, hope, and charity; that is, we must believe in Him, hope in Him, and love Him with all our heart."

7. During the return flight from Rio de Janeiro I said that if a homosexual person is of good will and is in search of God, I am no one to judge. By saying this, I said what the catechism says. Religion has the right to express its opinion in the service of the people, but God in creation has set us free: it is not possible to interfere spiritually in the life of a person.

Note the stark contrast between this comment and those his predecessor, Pope Benedict the XVI:

"...According to the teaching of the Church, men and women with homosexual tendencies 'must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided'. They are called, like other Christians, to live the virtue of chastity. The homosexual inclination is however 'objectively disordered' and homosexual practices are 'sins gravely contrary to chastity.'"

Ratzinger's "Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons," 1986, as reported by National Catholic Reporter

• Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered to an intrinsic moral evil, and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder.
• Speaking on the issue of homosexual unions, Benedict said, "When freedom to be creative becomes the freedom to create oneself, then necessarily the Maker himself is denied and ultimately man too is stripped of his dignity as a creature of God."
• One of the first major documents released during his pontificate said men with "deep-seated" homosexual tendencies shouldn't be ordained priests.

To break his comments down further, the pope states, as mentioned above:
By saying this, I said what the catechism says. . Below is what catechism says. Are his words a complete reflection of the text? Once again, he ignores and obfuscates the difficult teachings of Christ. The source of the pope's words may also be known by its fruits. While his statement to the press on the flight to Rio de Janeiro, in which he said that if a homosexual person is of good will and is in search of God, I am no one to judge may seem harmless, peoples' interpretations of it are not. To give just one example: my friend attended a Christian meditation retreat at San Damiano Retreat Center in Danville, California, on August 3rd, taught by a nun who assured the participants that the pope says it's okay to be actively gay. Many stories of similar interpretations and declarations of the pope's words continue to flood the internet.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church on Chastity and homosexuality:

2357 Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity,141 tradition has always declared that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered."142 They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

2359 Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.

8. The pope continues in his interview with the following words in succession: Religion has the right to express its opinion . . . Is Church's definitive teaching on issues concerning faith and morals just an "opinion"? . . .in the service of the people, but God in creation has set us free: . . . (Incomplete or erroneous thought. We are free if we obey His Commandments. If not, we are still bound in sin): . . .it is not possible to interfere spiritually in the life of a person. What!!?? But that is exactly what Christ came to do and the reason He established His Church, to "interfere spiritually in the life of the person," to come into the hearts and souls of men and women and with the Truth, to set them truly free. His statement here could be viewed as heretical, that is, departing from established beliefs and mission of the Catholic Church.

9. We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.

The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.

Breaking this down, we read: The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. Pope Francis seems to think that the aforementioned moral teachings of the Church-- abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods --are not of primary importance. This is verified in an interview printed just a day later, on October 1, which he gave to a prominent atheist, Eugenio Scalfari, for the Italian magazine, La Repubblica. In it, he said that the most urgent problem that the Church is facing is youth unemployment and the loneliness of the old. Really? Does the Church no longer care about saving people's souls and ushering them towards heaven?

10. The next sentence is: The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. The pope expresses harsh judgment, without mercy, on those who focus on the issues of abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods, calling them obsessed. And is the Church actually obsessed with this? Where I live, the Church is avoiding these sexual issues. In all my years of attending Church, I have never--not even once--heard these subjects mentioned in a homily. The Pope also denigrates the Church's teachings generally in his words that follow as "a disjointed multitude of doctrines imposed insistently." Shortly after this, he says, We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards. . . Things may, in fact, work the exact opposite way. By devaluing any emphasis on the very issues secular culture is at war with—abortion, contraception, and homosexual marriage—the church could lose its prophetic voice and crumble like a house of cards. If the church were to highlight issues most everyone can agree with, such as the loneliness of the elderly and youth unemployment, this could lull peoples'consciences into complacency in the areas where they need to be awakened and which are vital for salvation.

11. Yes, in this quest to seek and find God in all things there is still an area of uncertainty. There must be. If a person says that he met God with total certainty and is not touched by a margin of uncertainty, then this is not good. For me, this is an important key. . .
Uncertainty of God's will, at times, is normal in the Christian life, but every prophet and saint had encounters with God they couldn't deny. . . .The great leaders of the people of God, like Moses, have always left room for doubt. Not at all true. In fact quite the opposite has occurred in salvation history, from Abraham to Moses, to the prophets--to the apostles who met God with such total certainty that they were willing to die for their faith--to all the saints whose lives changed history forever because of their certain and undeniable encounters with and callings from God . . .Uncertainty is in every true discernment that is open to finding confirmation in spiritual consolation.

This is not what St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order, to which Pope Francis belongs, taught. Consolation after uncertainty, said the saint, is not the only means of discernment. In his Spiritual Exercises, (#’s 175-177), he mentions three suitable times for making a good, sound choice:

The first time is an occasion when the Lord moves or attracts the will in such a way that a devout person without doubting or having the ability to doubt carries out what God has proposed. This happened to St. Paul.

The second time is when sufficient clarity is received through the experience of consolations and desolations, and the discernment of various spirits.

The third time is during a period of tranquility, when the soul is not being moved one way and the other by different spirits and uses its natural faculties in freedom and peace.

12. The risk in seeking and finding God in all things, then, is the willingness to explain too much, to say with human certainty and arrogance: "God is here." See below, where the pope does just that and begins with, "I have a dogmatic certainty. God is in every person’s life." St. Ignatius of Loyola, himself, said and did exactly what the pope calls risky and arrogant. In the lasts words of St. Ignatius' "The Autobiography," a good friend of the saint writes: "He said he was quite sure that he had not exaggerated; and that, although he had committed many offenses against Our Lord after he began to serve Him, he had never consented to mortal sin. Rather, he had always grown in devotion, that is, ease in finding God, and now more than ever in his whole life. Every time, any hour, that he wished to find God, he found Him."

If the Christian is a restorationist, a legalist, if he wants everything clear and safe, then he will find nothing. Note the opposite concern of Pope Benedict XVI:

"Having a clear faith, based on the creed of the church, is often labeled today as a fundamentalism. ... Whereas relativism, which is letting oneself be tossed and 'swept along by every wind of teaching,' looks like the only attitude acceptable to today's standards."

"We are moving toward a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as definitive and has as its highest value one's own ego and one's own desires... The church needs to withstand the tides of trends and the latest novelties.... We must become mature in this adult faith, we must guide the flock of Christ to this faith."

Homily of His Eminence Cardinal Joseph RATZINGER, Dean of the College of Cardinals, Vatican Basilica, Monday 18 April 2005, at a Mass at St. Peter's Basilica before the conclave of cardinals.

13. St. Vincent of Lerins makes a comparison between the biological development of man and the transmission from one era to another of the deposit of faith, which grows and is strengthened with time. Here, human self-understanding changes with time and so also human consciousness deepens. Marian apparitions over the last one hundred years have told us repeatedly that human consciousness is not deepening. Rather, the human being is moving further and further from God in the present time. As Pope St. Pius X said, as early as 1903: "We were terrified beyond all else by the disastrous state of human society today. For who can fail to see that society is at the present time, more than in any past age, suffering from a terrible and deep-rooted malady which, developing every day and eating into its inmost being, is dragging it to destruction? You understand, Venerable Brethren, what this disease is—apostasy from God, than which, in truth, nothing is more allied with ruin. . ."
--Pope St. Pius X, E SUPREMI, encyclical of Pope Pius X on the restoration of all things in Christ, October 4, 1903

14. The view of the church’s teaching as a monolith to defend without nuance or different understandings is wrong.

Note the stark contrast of Pope Francis' words from those of his papal predecessors:

The sacred deposit of truth must be safeguarded. It is absolutely vital that the Church never for an instant lose sight of the holy patrimony of truth inherited from the Fathers ... This is the certain and unchangeable doctrine to which the faithful owe obedience. --Pope John XXIII

I accept with sincere belief the doctrine of faith as handed down to us from the Apostles by the orthodox Fathers, always in the same sense and with the same interpretation.--Pope St. Pius X

If anyone according to wicked heretics in any manner whatsoever, by any word whatsoever, at any time whatsoever, or in any place whatsoever illicitly removes the boundaries firmly established by the holy Fathers of the Catholic Church ... in order to seek for novelties and expositions of another faith ... and, briefly, if it is customary for the most impious heretics to do anything else, should anyone through diabolical operation crookedly and cunningly act contrary to the pious preachings of the orthodox teachers of the Catholic Church, that is, its papal and conciliar proclamations, to the destruction of sincere confession unto the Lord our God, and persist without repentance unto the end: let such a person be condemned forever, and let all the people say: So be it! So be it! --Pope St. Martin I

The preaching of the faith has lost nothing of its relevance in our times. The Church has a sacred duty to proclaim it without any whittling-down, just as Christ revealed it, and no consideration of time or circumstance can lessen the strictness of this obligation. --Pope Pius XII

"Progress" of dogmas is, in reality, nothing but corruption of dogmas ... I absolutely reject the heretical doctrine of the evolution of dogma, as passing from one meaning to another, and different from the sense in which the Church originally held it. And likewise, I condemn every error by which philosophical inventions, or creations of the human mind, or products elaborated by human effort and destined to indefinite progress in the future are substituted for that Divine Deposit given by Christ to the faithful custody of the Church . . . Condemned and proscribed is the error that dogmas are nothing but interpretations and evolutions of Christian intelligence which have increased and perfected the little seed hidden in the Gospel. --Pope St. Pius X

The faithful must shun the opinion that dogmatic formulas cannot signify truth in a determinate way, but only offer changeable approximations to it. Those who hold such an opinion do not escape dogmatic relativism and they corrupt the concept of the Church's infallibility concerning truth ... Relativism, which justifies everything and treats all things as of equal value, assails the absoluteness of Christian principles. There is no doubt that the meaning of dogmas declared by the Church is determinate and unalterable! --Pope Paul VI

Those wretches tainted with the error of Indifferentism and Modernism hold that dogmatic truth is not absolute, but relative: that is, that it must adapt itself to the varying necessities of the times and the varying dispositions of souls, since it is not contained in an unchangeable revelation, but is, by its very nature, meant to accommodate itself to the life of man. --Pope Pius XI

A great safeguard is the entire faith, the true faith, in which neither anything whatever can be added by anyone nor anything taken away; for, unless faith be one, it is not the faith. --Pope St. Leo the Great

Let nothing of the truths that have been defined be lessened, nothing altered, nothing added, but let them be preserved intact in word and in meaning. --Pope Gregory XVI

It is an error to believe that Christ did not teach a determined body of doctrine applicable to all times and to all men, but rather that He inaugurated a religious movement adapted, or to be adapted, to different times and different places. --Pope St. Pius X

Beyond a doubt, they perish eternally who do not keep the Catholic faith entire and unchanged. --Pope Gregory XVI

C. Self
October 5, 2013
Master of Theological Studies
Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley