A comprehensive response to many questions directed my way regarding the turbulent pontificate of Pope Francis. I apologize that this is a bit lengthier than usual. But thankfully, it is answering several readers’ questions….

 

FROM a reader:

I pray for conversion and for the intentions of Pope Francis everyday.  I am one who initially fell in love with the Holy Father when he was first elected, but over the years of his Pontificate, he has confused me and made me very concerned that his liberal Jesuit spirituality was almost goose-stepping with the left-leaning world view and liberal times. I am a Secular Franciscan so my profession binds me to obedience to him.  But I must admit that he scares me… How do we know he is not an anti-pope?  Is the media twisting his words? Are we to blindly follow and pray for him all the more?  This is what I have been doing, but my heart is conflicted.
FEAR AND CONFUSION
That the Pope has left a trail of confusion is undeniable. It has become one of the main themes discussed in nearly every Catholic media outlet from EWTN to regional publications. As one commentator said a few years ago:
Benedict XVI intimidated the media because his words were like brilliant crystal. His successor’s words, no different in essence from Benedict’s, are like a fog. The more comments he produces spontaneously, the more he risks making his faithful disciples seem like the men with shovels who follow the elephants at the circus. 
But should this “scare” us? If the fate of the Church rests upon a single man, then yes, it would be alarming. But it doesn’t. Rather, it is Jesus, not Peter, who is building His Church. What methods and materials the Lord chooses to use are His business.[1] But we already know that the Lord often uses the weak, the proud, the flippant… in a word, Peter.
And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18)
To be certain, every scandal in the Church is like another threatening wave; every heresy and error that presents itself is like a rocky shoal or shallow sandbar upon which the Barque of Peter risks running aground. Recall the observation Cardinal Ratzinger made several years before the world learned who Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio (Pope Francis) was:
Lord, Your Church often seems like a boat about to sink, a boat taking in water on every side. —Cardinal Ratzinger, March 24, 2005, Good Friday meditation on the Third Fall of Christ
Yes, it seems that way. But Christ promises that hell will not “prevail” against it. That is, the Barque may be damaged, thwarted, delayed, misguided, listing, or taking on water; her captain and first officers may be asleep, lukewarm, or distracted. But she will never sink. That’s Christ’s promise. [2] In a dream of the Barque of Peter, St. John Bosco recounts:
At times, a formidable ram splinters a gaping hole in its hull, but immediately, a breeze from the two columns [of the Virgin and the Eucharist] instantly seals the gash.  —Catholic Prophecy,  Sean Patrick Bloomfield, P.58
Confused? Sure. Scared? No. We should be in the space of faith.
“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Quiet! Be still!”. The wind ceased and there was great calm. Then he asked them, “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?” (Mark 4:37-40)
LEFT-LEANING?
You suggest that the Pope is “left-leaning.” It’s worth recalling that the Pharisees also thought Jesus was heterodox for the same reasons many oppose Francis. Why? Because Christ pushed mercy to its limits (see The Scandal of Mercy). Pope Francis likewise offends many “conservatives” for seemingly snubbing the letter of the law. And one can almost pinpoint the day that began…
It was in an interview that appeared in America Magazine, a Jesuit publication. There, the new Pope shared his vision:
The Church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. Proclamation in a missionary style focuses on the essentials, on the necessary things: this is also what fascinates and attracts more, what makes the heart burn, as it did for the disciples at Emmaus. We have to find a new balance; otherwise, even the moral edifice of the Church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel. The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow. —September 30th, 2013; americamagazine.org
Notably, several of those battling the “culture of death” on the front lines were immediately offended. They had assumed that the Pope would applaud them for boldly asserting the truth about abortion, defence of the family, and traditional marriage. Instead, they felt they were being scolded for being “obsessed” with these issues.
But the Pope was not suggesting in any way that these cultural matters were not significant. Rather, that they are not the heart of the Church’s mission, particularly at this hour. He went on to explain:

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. —Ibid.

“No, no, no!” cried some. “We are still at war, and we are losing! We must reassert the doctrines that are under attack! What is wrong with this Pope? Is he a liberal??”

But if I may be so bold, the problem with that response (which has nearly snowballed into a schism for some today) is that it reveals a heart that is not humbly listening or self-reflecting. The Pope did not say that doctrines were not important. Rather, he made a crucial observation about the culture wars: the orthodox teachings of the Church, firmly enunciated under St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI and widely known in the mainstream, have not pulled the world out its freefall into hedonistic paganism. That is, continuing to merely reassert doctrines isn’t working. What is needed, Francis insists, is a return to the “essentials”—what he would later call the kerygma. 

On the lips of the catechist the first proclamation must ring out over and over: “Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you.” This first proclamation is called “first” not because it exists at the beginning and can then be forgotten or replaced by other more important things. It is first in a qualitative sense because it is the principal proclamation, the one which we must hear again and again in different ways, the one which we must announce one way or another throughout the process of catechesis, at every level and moment.Evangelii Gaudiumn. 164

You have to heal the wounds first. You have to stop the bleeding, the hopeless bleeding… “and then we can talk about everything else.” From this “more simple, profound and radiant” proclamation of the Good News, “then the moral consequences,” the doctrines, dogmas and liberating moral truths flow. Where, I ask, is Pope Francis suggesting that truth is no longer relevant or necessary?
While not central to his pontificate in the way it was for his predecessors, Francis has on many occasions reasserted the dignity of life, the fallacies of “gender ideology,” the sanctity of marriage, and the moral teachings of the Catechism. He has also warned the faithful against laziness, complacency, unfaithfulness, gossiping, and consumerism—such as in his latest Apostolic Exhortation:
Hedonism and consumerism can prove our downfall, for when we are obsessed with our own pleasure, we end up being all too concerned about ourselves and our rights, and we feel a desperate need for free time to enjoy ourselves. We will find it hard to feel and show any real concern for those in need, unless we are able to cultivate a certain simplicity of life, resisting the feverish demands of a consumer society, which leave us impoverished and unsatisfied, anxious to have it all now.Gaudete et Exultate, n. 108; vatican.va
All that said, the Pope has no doubt made some decisions that may justify some head-scratching if not alarm: the contradictory and ambiguous language of Amoris Laetitia; the refusal to meet with certain Cardinals; the silence over the “dubia”; the transfer of authority over bishops to the Chinese government; explicit support for the questionable and controversial science of “global warming”; the seemingly inconsistent approach to clerical sex-offenders; the ongoing Vatican Bank controversies; the admittance of population control advocates to Vatican conferences, and so forth. These may not only come across as “goose-stepping” with the “liberal times” but seemingly play into the globalist’s agenda—as well as some dramatic papal prophecies, which I’ll address in a few moments. The point is that popes can and do make mistakes in their governance and relationships, which can leave us repeating:
“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”… Then he asked them, “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?” (Mark 4:37-40)
To answer your other question on whether the media “twists” his words, there is no doubt about that. For example, remember the “Who am I to judge?” fiasco? Well, even some of the Catholic media brutally messed that up with unfortunate consequences (see Who Am I to Judge? and Who Are You to Judge?).
BLIND OBEDIENCE?
There is no necessity for “blind obedience” in the Catholic Church. Why? Because the truths revealed by Jesus Christ, taught to the Apostles, and faithfully handed on by their successors, are not hidden. Moreover, they are gloriously logical. I was introduced to a former militant atheist who recently became a Catholic solely because of the intellectual rationale of Church teachings and the radiant sheen of truth. He added, “The experiential is now following.” Moreover, with internet search engines and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the entire body of Church teaching is entirely accessible.
And neither is this Tradition subject to the personal whims of the Pope “despite enjoying ‘supreme, full, immediate and universal ordinary power in the Church’.” [3]
The pope isn’t an absolute sovereign, whose thoughts and desires are law. On the contrary, the ministry of the pope is the guarantor of the obedience toward Christ and His word. —POPE BENEDICT XVI, Homily of May 8, 2005; San Diego Union-Tribune
This is all to say The Papacy is Not One PopePeter speaks with one voice, and therefore, cannot contradict himself in the teachings of his predecessors, which come from Christ himself. We proceed anything but blind, guided as we are by the Spirit of truth who will…
…guide you to all truth. (John 16:13)
Your response is the right one when the Pope does seem to be contradicting his predecessors: to pray for him all the more. But it must be said emphatically; even though Pope Francis has been ambiguous at times, he has not changed a single letter of doctrine, even if he has muddied the waters of pastoral practice. But if that is indeed the case, there is a precedent for when such circumstances occur:
And when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face because he clearly was wrong… I saw that they were not on the right road in line with the truth of the gospel. (Gal 2:11-14)
Perhaps another problematic issue is coming to light: an unhealthy cult of personality that has surrounded the Pope where there really is a kind of “blind” adherence. Several decades of theologically precise popes and the ready access to all their statements have created a certain false assumption in some faithful that almost everything a pope utters is, therefore, pure gold. That’s simply not the case. A pope can most certainly be wrong when he pronounces on matters outside of “faith and morals,” such as science, medicine, sports, or the weather forecast.
Popes have made and make mistakes and this is no surprise. Infallibility is reserved ex cathedra [“from the seat” of Peter, that is, proclamations of dogma based on Sacred Tradition]. No popes in the history of the Church have ever made ex cathedra errors.—Rev. Joseph Iannuzzi, Theologian, in a personal letter to me
IS HE AN ANTIPOPE?
This question is likely getting to the heart of many concerns today, and it is a serious one. For there is presently a growing momentum among “ultra conservative” Catholics to find a reason to declare this papacy invalid.
First, what is an antipope? By definition, it is anyone who unlawfully usurps the throne of Peter. In the case of Pope Francis, not a single Cardinal has even so much as hinted that the papal election of Jorge Bergoglio was invalid. By definition and canonical law, Francis is not an antipope.
However, some Catholics are asserting that a little “mafia” forced Benedict XVI out of the papacy, and therefore, Francis is indeed an antipope. But as I noted in Barquing Up the Wrong Treethe Emeritus Pope has categorically denied this on three occasions.
That’s all complete nonsense. No, it’s actually a straightforward 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. —POPE BENEDICT XVI, Benedict XVI, Last Testament in His Own Words, with Peter Seewald; p. 24 (Bloomsbury Publishing)
In addition, some have carelessly misread several prophecies, such as this one from Our Lady of Good Success regarding a future pope:
He will be persecuted and imprisoned in the Vatican through the usurpation of the Pontifical States and through the malice, envy, and avarice of an earthly monarch. —Our Lady to Sr. Mariana de Jesus Torres; tfp.org
Again, there is an assumption that evil members within the Curia are holding Benedict XVI against his will within the walls of the Vatican, which again, he has refuted.
And then there is the prophecy of “two popes” of Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich, which states:

I saw also the relationship between two popes … I saw how baleful would be the consequences of this false church. I saw it increase in size; heretics of every kind came into the city of Rome. The local clergy grew lukewarm, and I saw a great darkness… I had another vision of the great tribulation. It seems to me that a concession was demanded from the clergy which could not be granted. I saw many older priests, especially one, who wept bitterly. A few younger ones were also weeping. But others, and the lukewarm among them, readily did what was demanded. It was as if people were splitting into two camps.

Aha! Two popes! Couldn’t the “concession” be that Communion to the divorced and remarried is being permitted now by some bishops through a flawed interpretation of Amoris Laetitia? The problem is that the proper context of the “relationship” between the two popes is not a personal or proximate one, as one editorialist has pointed out:
…“the two popes” was not a relationship between two contemporaries, but two historical bookends, as it were, held apart by centuries: the pope who Christianized the most notable symbol of the pagan world, and the pope who would subsequently paganize the Catholic Church, thus reversing his sainted predecessor’s gains. —Steve Skojec, May 25th, 2016; onepeterfive.com
Another prominent prophecy invoked against Pope Francis today is that of his namesake—St. Francis of Assisi. That Saint once predicted:

The time is fast approaching in which there will be great trials and afflictions; perplexities and dissensions, both spiritual and temporal, will abound; the charity of many will grow cold, and the malice of the wicked will increase. The devils will have unusual power, the immaculate purity of our Order, and of others, will be so much obscured that 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 endeavor to draw many into error and death…. Sanctity of life will be held in derision, even by those who outwardly profess it, for in those days Our Lord Jesus Christ will send them not a true Pastor, but a destroyer. —Works of the Seraphic Father by R. Washbourne (1882), p.250

The problem with applying this to our present pope is that the “destroyer” here is “not canonically elected.” This, therefore, cannot refer to Pope Francis. But his successor…?
And then there is the prophecy from La Salette, France:

Rome will lose the faith and become the seat of the Antichrist. —seer, Melanie Calvat

Does “Rome will lose the faith” mean that the Catholic Church will lose the faith? Jesus promised that this will not happen, that the gates of hell will not prevail against her. Could it mean, instead, that in times to come the city of Rome will have become so utterly pagan in belief and practice that it becomes the seat of Antichrist? Again, very possible, particularly if the Holy Father is forced to flee the Vatican, as the approved prophecy of Fatima suggests, and as Pius X saw earlier in a vision:

What I have seen is terrifying! Will I be the one, or will it be a successor? What is certain is that the Pope will leave Rome and, in leaving the Vatican, he will have to pass over the dead bodies of his priests! —cf. ewtn.com

Another interpretation suggests that internal apostasy among clerics and laity could so weaken the exercise of the Petrine charism such that even many Catholics will become vulnerable to the deceiving power of the Antichrist.

The fact is that there is not a single approved prophecy in the body of Catholic mysticism that predicts the Pope will ipso facto become the very instrument of hell against the Church, as opposed to its rock… though, certainly, many a pope has failed in his witness to Christ in the most scandalous ways.

The post-Pentecost Peter… is that same Peter who, for fear of the Jews, belied his Christian freedom (Galatians 2 11–14); he is at once a rock and a stumbling-block. And has it not been thus throughout the history of the Church that the Pope, the successor of Peter, has been at once Petra and Skandalon—both the rock of God and a stumbling block? —POPE BENEDICT XIV, from Das neue Volk Gottes, p. 80ff

 

A DIABOLICAL “PROPHECY”

However, there is one false prophet whose infamous messages linger on, even after several bishops (most importantly her own) have condemned her writings. She went by the pseudonym of “Maria Divine Mercy.”

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin wishes to state that these messages and alleged visions have no ecclesiastical approval and many of the texts are in contradiction with Catholic theology. —Statement on Maria Divine Mercy, Archdioces of Dublin, Ireland; dublindiocese.ie

I have examined some of these messages and found them to be patently fraudulent and corrosive of true Christian faith as the Catholic Church teaches it. The alleged recipient of the messages operates anonymously and refuses to identify and present herself to local Church authority for a theological examination of the content of her messages. —Bishop Coleridge of Brisbane, Australia; cited by Bishop Richard. J. Malone of Buffalo; cf. mariadivinemercytrueorfalse.blogspot.ca

Not long after that statement, it was revealed that “Maria Divine Mercy” is Mary McGovern-Carberry of Dublin, Ireland. She ran the publication relations firm, McGovernPR, and reportedly had ties to a cult leader and convicted sex offender known as “Little Pebble,” and also to a clairvoyant named Joe Coleman. Witnesses allegedly observed her using automatic writing, which is normally associated with demonic influence. When Carberry was outed, she shut down her website and Facebook page without any explanation and was even caught on security cameras buying up newspapers on the day her identity was exposed in Ireland.[4]

In short, the brief emergence of Maria Divine Mercy (MDM) who gathered millions of readers, has been an absolute mess—a saga of contradictions, coverups, heresies, and most tragically, division. The essence of her writings is that Benedict XVI is the last true pope having been forced from the Chair of Peter and held hostage in the Vatican, and that his successor is the “false prophet” mentioned in the Book of Revelation. Of course, if this were true, then we should hear of the invalidity of that conclave from, at the very least, the “dubia” Cardinals, such as Raymond Burke, or the orthodox African contingent; or if true, then Benedict XVI “the last true pope” is actually a serial liar who has put his eternal soul at risk since he denies being pressured; or if true, then really, Jesus Christ has deceived His own Church by leading us into a trap.

And even if MDM’s messages were without error, contradictions or failed predictions as they are, it is still disobedience for theologians and laymen alike to promote her works when they are explicitly unapproved.

When someone first sent me a link to MDM, I spent about five minutes reading it. The very first thought that entered my mind was, “This is plagiarized.”  Not long after, Greek Orthodox seer Vassula Ryden made the very same assertion.[5]  Moreover, aside from the errors in MDM’s writings, they also condemned anyone for questioning them, including Church authorities—a tactic used in cults to control. Many who zealously followed the writings, but later regained their equilibrium, have described the experience as cult-like. Indeed, if you point out the vast problems and corruption with the MDM phenomenon today, her remaining followers immediately invoke the persecution that Saints Faustina or Pio endured as proof how the “Church can get it wrong.” But there’s a huge difference: those saints did not teach error let alone antipapalism.

If I were Satan, I would produce a “seer” who echoed what other authentic seers were saying. I would promote devotions like the Chaplet or Rosary to give the messages an air of piety. I would teach that the Pope cannot be trusted and that he is actually going to create a false church. I would suggest that the only true church is the one the “seer” is now leading the “remnant” through her messages. I would have her publish her own gospel, a “Book of Truth” that cannot be criticized; and I would have the seer present herself as the “last true prophet,” and frame anyone who questions her as virtual agents of the Antichrist.

There, you have “Maria Divine Mercy.”

A SIFTING
The present confusion in the Church is producing several unforeseen effects that are necessary: the testing of the genuineness and depth of our faith (see Why Are You Troubled?).
Benedict XVI taught that Our Lady is an “image of the Church to come.”[6] And Blessed Stella Isaac wrote:

When either is spoken of, the meaning can be understood of both, almost without qualification. —Blessed Isaac of Stella, Liturgy of the Hours, Vol. I, pg. 252

Thus the prophet Simeon’s words to Mother Mary can apply to us:

…and you yourself a sword will pierce so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed. (Luke 2:35)

Clearly, the thoughts of many hearts are being revealed at this hour: [7] those who were previously lingering in the shadows of modernism are now emerging like Judas into this night (see The Dipping Dish); those who have “rigidly” clung to their own ideas of how the Pope should run the Church, while unsheathing their “sword of truth,” are now fleeing the Garden (cf. Matt 26:51); and yet those who have remained small, humble and faithful like Our Lady, even when she did not understand our Lord’s ways,[8] are remaining at the foot of the Cross—there where His mystical Body, the Church, appears scourged, disfigured, and… nearly shipwrecked.

Which are you? Which one am I?

If you have not read The Five Correctionsit is a must-read. Because here I believe the Lord, if not the Pope, revealed what He’s up to…. revealing our hearts before a final correction of the Church, and then the world, begins….

 

FOLLOW JESUS

Here is the “warning” that I have personally received from some readers since the first year of Pope Francis’ pontificate: “What if you’re wrong, Mark? What if Pope Francis really is the false prophet? You’ll lead all your readers into a trap! I will not follow this Pope!

Can you see the dark irony in this statement? How can one accuse others of being deceived for remaining in unity with the Magisterium when they have declared themselves the ultimate arbiter on who is faithful and who is not? If they have determined that the Pope is an antipope, who then is their judge and infallible guide but their own ego?

The Pope, Bishop of Rome and Peter’s successor, “is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful.”—Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 882

On the other hand, St. Paul’s advice on how to prepare for and withstand the deception of the Antichrist was not to throw oneself blindly into an individual, but into the Tradition handed on by the entire Body of Christ.

…stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught, either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours. (2 Thessalonians 2:15)

The whole body of the faithful… cannot err in matters of belief. This characteristic is shown in the supernatural appreciation of faith (sensus fidei) on the part of the whole people, when, from the bishops to the last of the faithful, they manifest a universal consent in matters of faith and morals.Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 92

Those Traditions are built on 265 popes, not just one. If Pope Francis someday acts contrary to the Faith, or promotes mortal sin as normative, or orders the faithful to take what is clearly “the mark of the beast” etc., will I blindly obey and encourage others to do so as well? Of course not. At the very least, we’d have a crisis on our hands and perhaps a “Peter and Paul” moment where the Supreme Pontiff would need to be corrected by his brethren. Some suggest we’re already nearing such a moment. But for Heaven’s sake, it’s not like we are walking in the dark, blindly following a guide. We have the fullness of truth shining bright and clear and undiluted lighting the way before all of us, the Pope included.

There came a point when the Apostles faced a crisis of faith. They had to choose to either continue following Jesus or declare themselves wiser, and return to their former way of life.[9] At that moment, St. Peter simply declared:

Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. (John 6:68)

I am reminded again of a prophecy, allegedly from Jesus, given before St. Peter’s successor, Pope Paul VI, in a gathering with the Charismatic Renewal 43 years ago:

I will strip you of everything that you are depending on now, so you depend just on Me. A time of darkness is coming on the world, but a time of glory is coming for My Church, a time of glory is coming for My people…. And when you have nothing but Me, you will have everything… —St. Peter’s Square, Vatican City, Pentecost Monday, May, 1975

Perhaps what my reader above is experiencing—a conflicted heart—is part of this stripping. I think it is…. for all of us.

 

RELATED READING

That Pope Francis… A Short Story

That Pope Francis… A Short Story – Part II

 

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