HE looked at me intensely and said, “Mark, you have a lot of readers. If Pope Francis teaches error, you must break away and lead your flock in truth.”
I was stunned by the clergyman’s words. For one, “my flock” of readers do not belong to me. They (you) are Christ’s possession. And of you, He says:
I myself will look after and tend my sheep. As a shepherd tends his flock when he finds himself among his scattered sheep, so will I tend my sheep. I will rescue them from every place where they were scattered when it was cloudy and dark. (Last Sunday’s Mass reading; Ezekiel 34:11-12)
The Lord is speaking here, both of the diaspora of the Jews beyond Israel, but also, in the greater context, of a time when the sheep of Christ’s Church would be abandoned by their shepherds. A time when the clergy would be mostly silent, cowardly or careerists who defend neither the flock nor the truth, but rather shepherd and guard the status quo. It is a time of apostasy. And according to the popes, we are presently living in that hour:
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… —POPE ST. PIUS X, E Supremi, Encyclical On the Restoration of All Things in Christ, n. 3, 5; October 4th, 1903
Apostasy, the loss of the faith, is spreading throughout the world and into the highest levels within the Church. —POPE PAUL VI, Address on the Sixtieth Anniversary of the Fatima Apparitions, October 13, 1977
The third pope to explicitly use the word “apostasy” (which only appears in 2 Thess 2:3 when St. Paul speaks of an “apostasy” directly before the coming of Antichrist) was Pope Francis:
…worldliness is the root of evil and it can lead us to abandon our traditions and negotiate our loyalty to God who is always faithful. This… is called apostasy, which… is a form of “adultery” which takes place when we negotiate the essence of our being: loyalty to the Lord. —POPE FRANCIS from a homily, Vatican Radio, November 18th, 2013
We see this negotiation of truth all about us as Catholic schools, colleges, and universities in the West continue to adopt a politically correct agenda in direct contradiction to Catholic moral teaching. We see this abandonment of our traditions in some bishop’s conferences where novel interpretations of Amoris Laetitia are leading to a kind of Anti-Mercy. And in some countries, like Canada, we see the march of totalitarianism at an alarming pace that is almost entirely uncontested by the Church there, save for the odd Cardinal or bishop bravely denouncing the new quasi-Communism. At stake, on a massive scale, is our loyalty to the Lord.
Satan may adopt the more alarming weapons of deceit—he may hide himself—he may attempt to seduce us in little things, and so to move the Church, not all at once, but by little and little from her true position. I do believe he has done much in this way in the course of the last few centuries… It is his policy to split us up and divide us, to dislodge us gradually from our rock of strength. —Blessed John Henry Newman, Sermon IV: The Persecution of Antichrist
The division within the Church that we are now seeing is not only being fuelled by “progressives” but also “traditionalists” who are becoming increasingly vocal against Pope Francis. In another candid interview, Cardinal Müller, who was removed by Francis as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said:
There is a front of traditionalist groups, just as there is with the progressivists, that would like to see me as head of a movement against the Pope. But I will never do this…. I believe in the unity of the Church and I will not allow anyone to exploit my negative experiences of these last few months. Church authorities, on the other hand, need to listen to those who have serious questions or justified complaints; not ignoring them, or worse, humiliating them. Otherwise, without desiring it, there can be an increase of the risk of a slow separation that might result in the schism of a part of the Catholic world, disorientated and disillusioned. —Corriere della Sera, Nov. 26, 2017; quote from the Moynihan Letters, #64, Nov. 27th, 2017
Years ago, I stumbled upon the writings of two “sedevacanists” (people who believe the seat of Peter is vacant). They generally see Pope St. Pius X as the last valid pontiff, and point to “heresies” and “errors”, especially from the Second Vatican Council, that they claim validate their arguments. I was horrified by what I read. The subtle twist of words; the tainted reasoning; the pulling of phrases out of context. Like the Pharisees of old, they justified their schism with the “letter of the law” and, worse, have drawn countless souls away from the Roman Catholic Church. In them, the words of Pope Benedict particularly ring true:
…today we see it in truly terrifying form: the greatest persecution of the Church does not come from external enemies, but is born of sin within the Church. —POPE BENEDICT XVI, interview on flight to Lisbon, Portugal; LifeSiteNews, May 12th, 2010
I point this out because the spirit, if not the arguments of these schismatics, are beginning to gain traction among some “conservative” Catholics who are increasingly disgruntled with the current papacy.
But here is the point: it is still a valid papacy.
There is no question that the pontificate of Francis is fraught with seeming contradictions and ambiguities. A great many of these, however, are clearly the result of the pontiff being taken out of context, misquoted, or interpreted through a “hermeneutic of suspicion” that automatically twists the meaning of his words.
However, what cannot be denied is the present misappropriation of this Pope’s teaching in a pastoral context, as has happened with some bishop’s conferences. While still Prefect, Cardinal Müller criticized some bishops for a “casuistry” that was fomenting a “crisis of truth” by allowing Catholics, in an objective state of adultery, to admit themselves to the Sacrament of the Eucharist.
“These are sophistries: the Word of God is very clear and the Church does not accept the secularization of marriage.” The task of priests and bishops, then, “is not that of creating confusion, but of bringing clarity.” —Cardinal Müller, Catholic World Report, Feb. 1st, 2017
This “crisis” has led to four Cardinals (two now deceased) to issue five dubia (doubts) over questionable interpretations of Christian marriage and morality since the Synod on the family and its post-synodal document, Amoris Laetitia. As
pastors, they are fully within their right to seek clarification with “Peter” regarding what they perceive are serious abuses that are already taking place based on interpretations that break from Tradition. In that regard, they are following a biblical precedent when Paul went up to Antioch to meet face to face with Peter and correct what was truly a misappropriation of Christ’s teaching:
When Cephas came to Antioch, I [Paul] opposed him to his face because he clearly was wrong. (Gal 2:11); It should be noted that the Cardinals have attempted to meet with Francis in person, but have not been able to gain an audience.
What one of the more prominent Cardinals has stated emphatically, however, is that the dubia are not a pretext for schism.
Absolutely not. I will never leave the Catholic Church. No matter what happens I intend to die a Roman Catholic. I will never be part of a schism. —Cardinal Raymond Burke, LifeSiteNews, August 22nd, 2016
But part of a dialogue? We must, especially when truth is at stake.
…the true friends are not those who flatter the Pope, but those who help him with the truth and with theological and human competence. —Cardinal Müller, Corriere della Sera, Nov. 26, 2017; quote from the Moynihan Letters, #64, Nov. 27th, 2017
BARQUING UP THE WRONG TREE
A call for clarity and unity, however, has not put an end to various theories which contend that the papacy of Francis is invalid. Many concerned Catholics are grasping for answers as to why Pope Francis has appointed progressives, left the dubia unanswered, and “allowed” other oddities to emerge from the Vatican like support for “global warming” or a stamp to commemorate the Reformation. “This what Freemasons do,” a few have said, referring to the double-speak of that secret society that has been condemned by more than one pope. But unsubstantiated accusations like these are extremely dangerous because, suddenly, even the clear and profound teachings of Francis—and they are not few—are immediately cast into the darkness of suspicion and judgment.
And then there is the testimony of the progressive Cardinal Godfried Daneels of Belgium who claims to have been part of a “Mafia club” to oppose the election of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger to the papacy, and to advance a reform of the Church to be headed by none other than Jorge Mario Bergoglio—now Pope Francis. The little clique was about 7-8 members. Did they somehow influence the election of Pope Francis too?
Here’s the thing: not a single Cardinal—including the outspoken Cardinal Raymond Burke or the courageous African Cardinals or any other orthodox members of that college—have even so much as hinted that something went awry. It is hard to believe that, in a Church that was built upon the blood of martyrs and the Sacrifice of Christ… that at least one man wouldn’t be willing to step forward and potentially lose his “career” to expose an antipope occupying the Seat of Peter.
And so, in what seems a search for any reason to disqualify Francis, pundits continue to assert that Pope Benedict is still the legitimate pontiff. They claim that he resigned under pressure and duress, and therefore, he remains the Supreme Pontiff, while Bergoglio is an antipope, impostor, or false prophet.
The problem with this is that Pope Benedict himself has repeatedly denounced those who voice this theory:
There is absolutely no doubt regarding the validity of my resignation from the Petrine ministry. The only condition for the validity of my resignation is the complete freedom of my decision. Speculations regarding its validity are simply absurd… [My] last and final job [is] to support [Pope Francis’] pontificate with prayer. —POPE EMERITUS BENEDICT XVI, Vatican City, Feb. 26th, 2014; Zenit.org
And again, in Benedict’s recent autobiography, papal interviewer Peter Seewald explicitly asks whether the retired Bishop of Rome was the victim of ‘blackmail and conspiracy.’
That’s all complete nonsense. No, it’s actually a straight-forward matter… no one has tried to blackmail me. If that had been attempted I would not have gone since you are not permitted to leave because you’re under pressure. It’s also not the case that I would have bartered or whatever. On the contrary, the moment had—thanks be to God—a sense of having overcome the difficulties and a mood of peace. A mood in which one really could confidently pass the reins over to the next person. —Benedict XVI, Last Testament in His Own Words, with Peter Seewald; p. 24 (Bloomsbury Publishing)
So intent are some to dethrone Francis that they are willing to suggest that Pope Benedict is simply lying here—a virtual prisoner in the Vatican. That rather than lay down his life for the truth and Christ’s Church, Benedict would prefer to either save his own hide, or at best, protect some secret that would do more damage. But if that were the case, the aged Pope Emeritus would be in grave sin, not only for lying, but for publicly supporting a man whom he knows to be an antipope.
But what about the prophecy of St. Francis of Assisi?
…there will be very few Christians who will obey the true Sovereign Pontiff and the Roman Catholic Church with loyal hearts and perfect charity. At the time of this tribulation a man, not canonically elected, will be raised to the Pontificate, who, by his cunning, will endeavour to draw many into error and death. —Works of the Seraphic Father by R. Washbourne (1882), p. 250
Since Pope Francis has been validly and canonically elected, this prophecy does not refer to him—plain and simple.
And yet, I am inclined to say watch out! The signs of the times are everywhere indicating the rise of a false church—a false church that may very well see an anti-pope attempt to usurp the throne that Francis now validly holds… 
Watch and pray!
REMAIN WITH PETER THE “ROCK”
Who is our rock of strength? In Psalm 18, David sings:
Lord, my rock, my fortress, my deliverer, my God, my rock of refuge, my shield, my saving horn, my stronghold! (Ps 18:3)
But this very Rock himself declares that Peter will become the “rock” upon which the Church will be built.
I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. (Matt 16:18)
Since this is the Father’s will and Christ’s doing, not only is Jesus our refuge and stronghold, but so too, then, is His mystical body, the Church.
…all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body.—Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), n. 846
If we are indeed living in a time of apostasy where there is a flood of error and iniquity sweeping over the world, then Noah’s Ark is clearly a “type” of the Church that was to come:
The Church is “the world reconciled.” She is that bark which “in the full sail of the Lord’s cross, by the breath of the Holy Spirit, navigates safely in this world.” According to another image dear to the Church Fathers, she is prefigured by Noah’s ark, which alone saves from the flood. —CCC, n. 845
The Church is thy hope, the Church is thy salvation, the Church is thy refuge. —St. John Chrysostom, Hom. de capto Euthropio, n. 6.; cf. E Supremi, n. 9, vatican.va
What I’m saying, brothers and sisters, is that those who would reject the papacy of Pope Francis and choose to separate themselves from the Church would put their souls at grave risk. For there is only one Church, and Peter is its rock.
They, therefore, walk in the path of dangerous error who believe that they can accept Christ as the Head of the Church, while not adhering loyally to His Vicar on earth. They have taken away the visible head, broken the visible bonds of unity and left the Mystical Body of the Redeemer so obscured and so maimed, that those who are seeking the haven of eternal salvation can neither see it nor find it. —POPE PIUS XII, Mystici Corporis Christi (On the Mystical Body of Christ), June 29, 1943; n. 41; vatican.va
No matter how crazy this world is going to get, Jesus has warned us to never build our house on shifting sands, but on His Word. And His Word has already declared that the rock upon which His Church is built will withstand, not only this present Storm, but the very gates of hell.
I follow no one as leader except Christ alone, and therefore I want to remain in union in the Church with you, that is with the chair of Peter. I know that on this rock the Church is founded. —St. Jerome in a letter to Pope Damasus, Letters, 15:2
Do the Pope’s actions at times trouble you? Do his words confuse you? Do you disagree with some things he says on matters outside of faith and morals? Then pray harder for him. And those who are able to should approach the Holy Father with their concerns in a manner that is consistent with charity and does not itself created scandal. This does not make them or you a bad Catholic. Nor does it make you an enemy of the Pope. As Cardinal Müller rightly said in that recent interview, “Classifying all Catholics according to the categories of ‘friend’ or ‘enemy’ of the Pope is the worst harm that they cause to the Church.” 
No. The worst thing you can do is jump over board the Barque of Peter. For you will only hear one sound: