The Descent into Darkness:
Pope Francis and the Deconstruction of the Catholic Heart
In the midst of all the fire and smoke produced by Pope Francis’ comments about gays and women during his extensive impromptu interview on the return trip from Rio, his devastating statements about the issue of abortion went largely unnoticed. Following is that exchange (from the Holy See’s website):
Patricia Zorzan [Brazilian journalist]: Speaking on behalf of the Brazilians: society has changed, young people have changed, and in Brazil we have seen a great many young people. You did not speak about abortion, about same-sex marriage. In Brazil a law has been approved which widens the right to abortion and permits marriage between people of the same sex. Why did you not speak about this?
Pope Francis: The Church has already spoken quite clearly on this. It was unnecessary to return to it, just as I didn’t speak about cheating, lying, or other matters on which the Church has a clear teaching!
Patricia Zorzan: But the young are interested in this ...
Pope Francis: Yes, though it wasn’t necessary to speak of it, but rather of the positive things that open up the path to young people. Isn’t that right! Besides, young people know perfectly well what the Church’s position is.
Patricia Zorzan: What is Your Holiness’ position, if we may ask?
Pope Francis: The position of the Church. I am a son of the Church.
To begin with, the following analysis presumes that Pope Francis’ position on the doctrine of abortion is, at least nominally, that of the Church. Since his return from World Youth Day he has made two very minimalistic affirmations of that position – the first, a letter (never using the word “abortion, and couched in the usual “gentle” language of defending human dignity at all stages, including “the maternal womb,” the elderly, and “especially grandparents”) to Brazilians during their “National Week of the Family; ” the second, a message (in the form of a letter written by Cardinal Bertone to the Knights of Columbus meeting in Texas) in which “he invites each Knight, and every Council, to bear witness to the authentic nature of marriage and the family, the sanctity and inviolable dignity of human life, and the beauty and truth of human sexuality.” These, of course, are the sort of statements that Pro-Life advocates rather desperately embrace as ringing endorsements for their very important work. “Ringing” is something they surely are not.
In my article the Quintessential Evolutionist, I noted that the real decay in the Church’s doctrinal integrity lies not in direct denial of any specific doctrine, but rather in a redefinition of the concept of the act of faith itself, and the resultant de-emphasis of the place which full submission to the Deposit of Faith must occupy in this act. Brazil offers a premier example of a so-called Catholic country in which there is massive confusion as to what constitutes the Catholic Faith, especially in regard to abortion and human sexuality, and which has seen an historic falling away from the Church in recent years. Such a situation certainly placed the Pope under a moral imperative to confront these immense evils – and to “open up a path” to understanding the liberating truth of Church doctrine on these issues. The fact, as revealed in the interview, that he purposefully did not do so should astound us, just as it seems to have astounded the interviewer Patricia Zorzan.
In order to place Francis’ comments in perspective I offer the following:
On Sunday, 21 July, 2013, one day before the arrival of Pope Francis, the Brazilian Institute of Public Opinion and Statistics released the results of a survey which revealed that 82% of Brazilian Catholics ages 16 to 29 believe that they should be able to use the morning-after pill to “prevent” pregnancy [the word “prevent” is an obfuscation – the morning-after pill also works to kill a human being after conception], and 62% oppose the criminalization of abortion. 72 % also support ending the celibacy requirement for priests, 62% are in favor of women’s ordination, and 56 % support “gay marriage [legalized last year].
Leonardo Boff, “former” Catholic priest and liberation theologian, aptly summarized the situation in regard to his fellow Brazilian Catholics: “The vast majority don’t follow Catholic doctrine because they don’t know it well. Brazilians are cultural Catholics, not orthodox Catholics.” Clearly, in the face of the above statistics, the vast majority of Brazilian Catholic do not possess that knowledge of the Church’s teaching on abortion and the sanctity of human life which reaches into the human heart to the point of true understanding of this doctrine. Contrary to the Pope’s claim, they do not know the Church’s teaching.
Secondly, four days after the Pope’s departure from Rio, Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff signed into law “a measure that opens the door to the distribution of abortion-causing drugs in the country’s public health care system.” It in fact “requires” all health care centers to “administer” the pill to women who, within 72 hours of the crime, claim that they have been raped. It was widely known before the Papal visit that the passage of this law was imminent.
The Pope’s visit, in other words, was historically sandwiched into a situation which cried desperately for a clear teaching from him on these issues. We can imagine many reasons why, unfortunately, a Pope might not respond – failure to perceive the reality of the situation, lukewarmness, a cowardly bow to diplomatic pressure, or just plain old fear of reprisal. Reprehensible as these reasons or motives are, none of them represent the threat to the Catholic Faith which is revealed in Francis’ quite specific explanation for his clearly chosen agenda of silence on abortion, and which will be the further subject of our examination here.
The Silence of the Pope:
“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer
The penetrating words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer would indeed seem appropriate to the Pope’s purposeful silence. One can only imagine the effect upon the world’s youth, and specifically upon Brazilian society (which has seen a massive falling away from the Catholic Faith in the past 40 years – from 92% of the population in 1970 to 65% in 2010) if, in the face of such statistics, the Pope had specifically and vociferously acted to condemn these evils, and if he had effectively led a Pro-Life Rally with 3,000,000 young people chanting something like “Save Our Unborn Children!” In addition, it would seem fair to presume that there will be many thousands of unborn children murdered in their mothers’ wombs because of this apparent acquiescence of the Pope, and by the moral dumbing down effected by his act of Silence.
An act it surely was. In his interview aboard the plane, Pope Francis was very specific as to why he deliberately avoided the subject of abortion. He offers two reasons – one facetious to the extreme, the other horrendous in its consequences for the Catholic Faith.
Facetiousness took the form of glibly equating the seriousness of abortion with cheating and lying. Neither cheating nor lying involve the killing of innocent human life, destroy the life of God in the soul of a mother, and entail automatic excommunication. Mother Teresa said that women are the heart of the world. If that be true, then the world has suffered a massive coronary, and any attempt to justify silence (especially in Brazil, in the midst of these statistic and events) by employing such a comparison speaks of a mind and heart deeply muddled or immersed in some sort of deceit (self, or otherwise).
No matter how opprobrious such confusion or deceit may be, the second reason offered by Francis is immensely more demanding of our serious consideration. It testifies to an agenda for the Church which is profoundly revolutionary because it inverts the traditional understanding of the human heart and how it comes to know and love God.
The sentence which offers the key to Francis’ justification for his silence on the abortion issue is the following:
“Yes, though it wasn’t necessary to speak of it, but rather of the positive things that open up the path [or “way”] to young people.”
Those who have read Pope Leo XIII’s Testem Benevoliente (True and False Americanism in Religion) should find the following familiar:
“The principles on which the new opinions [false “Americanism”] We have mentioned are based may be reduced to this: that, in order the more easily to bring over to Catholic doctrine those who dissent from it, the Church ought to adapt herself somewhat to our advanced civilization, and, relaxing her ancient rigor, show some indulgence to modern popular theories and methods. Many think that this is to be understood not only with regard to the rule of life, but also to the doctrines in which the deposit of faith is contained. For they contend that it is opportune in order to work in a more attractive way upon the wills of those who are not in accord with us, to pass over [in silence] certain heads of doctrines, as if of lesser moment, or to so soften them that they may not have the same meaning which the Church has invariably held….whosoever would do so, would rather wish to alienate Catholics from the Church than to bring over to the Church those who dissent from it.”
The “silence” condemned by Pope Leo XIII is a specific form of silence. As I have said, there are many kinds of “silence”, their variety depending on the motivations (or lack of the same) involved. The form which Leo condemns would seem perfectly reflected in the motive or reason which Francis offers. He was silent because he deemed that in order to open up the path to these young people, he needed to speak of the “positive things” [things that, in Pope Leo’s words, “work in a more attractive way”]. This clearly and necessarily implies that the subject of abortion is (at least partly) a “negative thing” which, if dealt with by the Pope at WYD, would have, or could have, closed the way (or failed to open it) for young people.
There is, however, one significant difference between that silence described by Pope Leo XIII and the silence which Pope Francis attempted to justify. The motive of those who engage in the silence of which Leo spoke is “in order the more easily to bring over to Catholic doctrine those who dissent from it.” We may make no such presumption in regard the motive of Francis. On the contrary, in his August 7 video message to the Church in Argentina on the Feast of St. Cajetan, he said,
“He [St. Cajetan] only asks one thing of you: that you come together! That you go out and seek and find one in greater need! But not alone – with Jesus, with St. Cajetan! Am I going to go out to convince someone to become a Catholic? No, no, no. You are going to meet with him, he is your brother! That’s enough! And you are going to help him, the rest Jesus does, the Holy Spirit does it.”
To feed and help the hungry and poor is certainly an immediate mission of great importance. Christ does not require us to preach the Gospel to those who are starving before we feed them and help to restore some physical well-being and dignity to their lives. But the notion that “That’s enough,” and that we are to leave the rest to Christ and the Holy Spirit, flies directly in the face of Christ’s commission to “teach all nations,” and Paul’s mandate to “bring into captivity every understanding unto the obedience of Christ” (2Cor 10:5). The fullness of human dignity can only be restored through “captivity” of the heart and mind to Catholic truth and Sacred Doctrine which are the very life and light of Jesus Christ. This can only be accomplished through conversion of both individuals and nations to the Catholic Faith. The fact that Pope Francis, who has repeatedly insisted that we all become “missionary disciples” of Christ, believes that we can “open up a path” to Christ for young people (or anyone else) without this missionary goal of conversion to the Catholic Church speaks of a very different concept of the Catholic Faith. As we shall see, it amounts to an inversion of the Church’s teaching concerning the act of faith itself.
What is Faith?
The definitive teaching of the Catholic Church on what constitutes the act of faith is to be found in Vatican Council I’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith. It reads as follows:
“Man being wholly dependent upon God, as upon his Creator and Lord, and created reason being absolutely subject to uncreated truth, we are bound to yield to God, by faith in His revelation, the full obedience of our intelligence and will. And the Catholic Church teaches that this faith, which is the beginning of man’s salvation, is a supernatural virtue, whereby, inspired and assisted by the grace of God, we believe that the things which He has revealed are true; not because the intrinsic truth of the things is plainly perceived by the natural light of reason, but because of the authority of God Himself, Who reveals them, and Who can neither be deceived nor deceive. For faith, as the Apostle testifies, is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things that appear not.”
In the act of faith, therefore, assent to sacred doctrine as contained in the Church’s Deposit of Faith is absolutely essential. Quoting St. Augustine (De Trin. xiv, 1), St. Thomas writes:
“to this science [sacred doctrine] alone belongs that whereby saving faith is begotten, nourished, protected, and strengthened.”
Faith is of course a gift of God’s grace. Man cannot attain to it on his own. But we must not think of faith as being in some way unnatural to man’s created nature. The Prologue to the Gospel of John tells us that “In him [Christ] was life, and the life was the light of man.” St. Thomas teaches that “For the intellectual light itself which is in us, is nothing else than a participated likeness of the uncreated light, in which are contained the eternal types.” (I, 84, 5). This entails not only that we see created substances as God sees them, but that we are naturally predisposed to embrace divine truth. In a chapter titled “Dogma the Source of Devotion,” in his book The Glories of the Sacred Heart, Cardinal Henry Edward Manning wrote:
“He (Jesus) declared that all truth was contained in Himself; and when the Apostle said that he judged himself to ‘know nothing save Jesus Christ and Him crucified,” he meant the same thing, namely, that he who knows Jesus Christ aright knows the whole Revelation of God, the radiance which flows from the Person of Jesus Christ.”
“Every divine truth or reality, so far as God has been pleased to reveal it to us, casts its perfect outline and image upon the human intelligence. His own mind, in which dwells all truth in all fullness and in all perfection, so far as He has revealed of His truth, is cast upon the surface of our mind, in the same way as the sun casts its own image upon the surface of the water, and the disc of the sun is perfectly reflected from its surface.”
Dogmas or doctrines, in other words, are not in any way to be regarded as weak and humanly fabricated “notions” (the word used by Cardinal Newman for such intellectual formulations), but rather as a powerful divine radiance cast upon our intellectual light, a radiance which finds a natural response in the soul of one who sincerely seeks the truth. This is why, in Cardinal Manning’s words:
“If when a divine truth is declared to us, our hearts do not turn to it, as the eye turns to the light; if there be not in us an instinctive yearning, which makes us promptly turn to the sound of the divine voice, the fault is in our hearts; for just in proportion as we know the truth we shall be drawn towards it.”
And, one more marvelous passage taken from Manning’s work, The Four Great Evils of Our Day:
“God, who is the perfect and infinite intelligence – that is, the infinite and perfect reason – created man to His own likeness, and gave him a reasonable intelligence, like His own. As the face in the mirror answers to the face of the beholder, so the intelligence of man answers to the intelligence of God. It is His own likeness.”
Cardinal Manning’s words constitute a beautiful elaboration of Our Lord’s simple declaration, “Every one that is of the truth, heareth my voice.” (John 18:37). It should be added that the Gospel of John is replete with teachings concerning the nature of Christ as the light of truth, and of man’s response, or lack of response to this light and truth. I would highly recommend to all readers that they reread the entire Gospel of St. John with the specific intent of noting all of this imagery concerning the power of the light and truth of Christ which finds a fully natural response in the created intellectual light of man, and a corresponding rejection in those who have of their own free will obscured this light: “He came unto his own, and his own received him not.” And further:
“For everyone that doth evil hateth the light, and cometh not to the light, that his works may not be reproved. But he that doth truth, cometh to the light, that his works may be made manifest, because they are done in God.” (John 3:20-21).
The necessary conclusion from all this is that calculated and purposeful silence in regard to Catholic doctrines, especially in the face of evils which deny these truths, constitutes not only a denial of the power of the life and light of Christ, but also a war against the heart of man whose created nature cries out for truth. This is especially true of the Church’s teaching on abortion, which involves not the meat (St. Paul’s term) of more abstract Catholic truth, but the simple milk of the human heart determining a person’s basic orientation towards good or evil, life and death. The imperative to speak becomes especially acute in the presence of youth in whom hopefully the encrustations of error and sin are not fully habitual.
Abortion and the Demolition of the Catholic Heart
Unlike the terms “intellect” and “will,” the word “heart” (in reference to man’s spiritual nature) does not correspond to any single faculty of the human soul. To speak of a truly Catholic heart refers rather to the depths of the human soul where all man’s faculties meet and are integrated into the life of Christ. Such a heart is, of course, in possession of the Catholic Faith, and also necessarily expresses this faith in charity (Gal 5: 6). But the concept of “heart” is also something that reaches to the depths of our sensitive nature – into our feelings, desires, loves, hope, anger, fear, and all those passions intimately associated with our sense and defense of the Catholic Faith and all that is good and true. It is the Catholic heart which rises to the defense of the Faith, is justifiably angry at the hypocrisy of our hierarchy, and calls forth the fortitude to fight for the unborn. Catholic heart is what makes for a real Catholic man or woman in both spirit and flesh.
It is a very destructive thing, therefore, to reductively identify “heart” with the word “love”. Love is an act of the will which, as Thomas teaches, is an operation of what is termed the “intellectual appetency”. Put simply, we cannot love, desire, choose, or even hope for something unless it is in some manner known with the intellect first. And, depending on whether our knowledge is true or false, so our corresponding loves are true or false.
This distinction between true and false love is just as applicable in the spiritual realm as it is in the physical. It is likely that few subjects have been the recipients of more false love than Jesus Christ. Consider the Gnostic love of Christ which sees Him as a “Master” on the cutting edge of evolutionary consciousness – a New Age Christ, Who, rather than being God united to human nature, was a man who became God. Consider the love of Arius who denied Christ’s Divinity, or of Nestorius who denied His Mother. Consider Luther, who is revealed in his Table Talk, as loving a Christ Who, in order to be fully identified with human nature, committed adultery not only with the woman at the well, but also with Mary Magdalene. Christian history is replete with false loves of Christ.
In this present age of history which has seen the descent of whole nations, formerly Christian, into every moral filth and perversity, these false so-called Christian loves are especially to be found in love of a Christ Who is accepting of our own perverted loves. There exists now, for instance, a very prevalent love of Christ which sees Him as embracing homosexual love. The vast majority of Catholics entertain a love of Christ which sees him as blessing contraception. And most heinously, there is a love which embraces a Christ who is totally non-judgmental towards those who procure or perform abortions. There are millions of such “Catholics” in Pope Francis’ much-loved Argentina and neighboring Brazil, and Francis was calculatedly silent in the face of innumerable hearts committed to evil in the name of Christ. What does this say for his love of his own people?
Love, without truth, is not a path to Christ. Therefore, a “missionary discipleship” which seeks to bring people to Christ from “where they are at,” or “where their love is at,” without a concomitant purification of their love accomplished through the teaching of Catholic doctrine, and culminating in their conversion to the Catholic Church, can in no way be seen as a commission from Christ. Rather, it consists in a profound inversion of the necessary relationship between truth and love, a turning-upside-down which effectively blesses evil with silence.
There is no sin in which the “blessing of silence” reaps as much devastation within the human heart as does abortion.
If we consider the human heart as denoting that deepest realm where intellect, will, and all the sensitive faculties and passions meet, interact, and determine a human being’s fundamental posture towards God, and towards good and evil, then it may well be considered that a person’s position on abortion determines the status of an individual human heart more than any other single belief.
All human beings are created in the image of God. This image is present in a child at the very moment of conception. It is impossible therefore for any woman to choose abortion, or anyone to help facilitate this choice and action, without somewhere, somehow in their heart knowing that this action constitutes a direct assault upon God Himself, and upon the goodness of His creation. Especially when we consider the mother, we are not just here speaking of intellectual knowledge. A woman’s whole being – her soul, mind, emotions, passions, all the various systems and sensitivities of her body – are activated to tell her that something absolutely extraordinary is happening to her, and that this “something” involves much more than herself. The choice of abortion is necessarily therefore a fleeing from God and all of creation. This takes place not only in the spiritual realm, but also in the deepest recesses of a woman’s physical and sensitive being.
Abortion is equally constituted as being the most vicious attack upon Mary as the Mother of God and Mother of His Mystical Body the Church. Every child, at the moment of conception is Mary’s child. Every abortion is therefore a direct attack on her Maternal Heart. The Aparecida Document, which is a constant reference point for Francis’ concept of “missionary discipleship” because it contains the missionary program of the CELAM Bishops for the New Evangelization in Latin America, speaks of the extraordinary unifying power of devotion to Mary inherent among all the myriad cultures of those countries. Aparecida, in fact, sees this virtually universal devotion to the Mother of God as the most powerful unifying force for this evangelization. On the contrary, in view of the statistics in regard to abortion in these countries, and the testimony which they offer as to the powerful tendency of unformed human love and devotion to unite with the most horrendously destructive beliefs and practices, such “devotion” and “love” render overwhelming testimony as to the absolute necessity of insistently and constantly preaching the doctrine concerning abortion in order to cleanse love and devotion of their duplicities and perversities.
I said it before, but will repeat it here. If women are the “heart of the world,” then the world has suffered a massive coronary. The woman who has procured an abortion, the husband or lover who concurs, the doctors and nurses who perform, the legislators who legalize – all are dead in spirit and committed to evil, unless they confess and convert. Further, there can be no real social justice in a country that has legalized abortion, no charity, no just war, no “civilization of love.” There can be no real peace between nations, or any sort of dialogue (which literally means "logos between") capable of attaining peace between nations that are at war with God's truth concerning abortion. Finally, there can be no charity towards either God or man in any individual heart which says yes to the legitimacy of abortion.
The Pro-Life movement, over the past several decades, has been the final refuge for large numbers who would be considered orthodox or “conservative” Catholics. In the face of deeper and growing aberrations in the thinking and practice of the Church’s hierarchy, especially in regard to theology, philosophy, and sacramentality, many immersed themselves in the Pro-Life position, especially as enunciated frequently during the long Papacy of John Paul II, as a sure refuge and guarantor that everything was alright in the Church. They failed to realize that the health and continuance of all that made the Church the great defender of life was dependent upon that traditional theology and philosophy which was now being cast aside wholesale, along with the traditional Mass, traditional catechisms, music, art, statuary, etc. They continued to live in a Catholic “heart” which, while appearing outwardly healthy for quite some time, was being inwardly deconstructed of the truths and practices which were its lifeblood.
During the Pontificate of Benedict XVI (as documented in my article The Final Decay), this decay in the Church’s pro-life posture became profoundly evident. It began with an unprecedented, congratulatory telegram from the Pope to President Obama one day after he was elected, and another on the day of his inauguration expressing rather messianic hopes in his Presidency’s future service in the realms of poverty, hunger, and violence. It continued in March of 2009 with Archbishop Fisichella’s (President of the Pontifical Academy of Life) public condemnation of Archbishop Sobrinho’s declaration of automatic excommunication upon those who procured or facilitated the abortion of a nine-year old Brazilian girl pregnant with twins. It spiraled into articles in L’Osservatore Romano offering positive assessments of Obama, and minimizing his pro-abortion beliefs and actions. It was carried into the minds of the world through photographs of Pope Benedict offering a two-handed, smiling embrace of Obama during his visit to the Vatican. And finally, all this was capped by the promotion of Archbishop Fisichella as the first President of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization. In the mind of Benedict XVI he must have done something very right in order to merit this position at the center of the Pope’s pet project for the New Evangelization
With the Papacy of Francis, we can now perceive the contours of this “New Evangelization.” The Bread of God’s Truth is refused to the spiritually starving. God’s Revelation is no longer seen as possessing the power and radiance necessary to capture hearts for Christ. Love is no longer seen as proceeding from Truth. Having lost and denied this vertical dimension in which love is seen to proceed from Truth (just as the Holy Spirit of Love must be seen as proceeding from the Word Who is Truth), the entire mission of the Church is reduced to a plunge into the world in order to encounter and dialogue with all that is of the world. It is this form of “missionary discipleship” which is now expected to produce a universal love from which a new and truly vital truth is generated.
This has always been Satan’s goal: to turn man away from the truths which come from above, and turn him towards those which come from below. This is the ultimate conquest in the spiritual realm of evolutionary theory (I again refer the reader to my article The Quintessential Evolutionist). It is all being done in the name of love, and in service to the poor. It is a perfect inversion of the Gospel – the Cross of Christ hung upside down.
The descent into the world which has been the essence of post-Vatican II life has taken decades, and the Popes who engineered it have always seemed in internal conflict between the traditional and the new. Paul VI could speak of the smoke of Satan having entered the Church and write the encyclical Mysterium Fidei, while also promulgating the New Mass and writing Populorum Progressio. Pope John Paul II could formally approve Dominus Jesus, and speak strongly in defense of the unborn, while at the same time engaging in totally scandalous ecumenical activities such as Assisi. Pope Benedict XVI issued Dominus Jesus while Prefect of the CDF, and wrote and promulgated Summorum Pontificum,, but continued to engage in more scandalous ecumenical activities, and to approve the publishing of new editions of his writings containing a great many material heresies. These men were not in peace with what they were doing. They consistently claimed that the work of the Council was that of the Holy Spirit, while often seeming to draw back in trepidation from its consequences. They were not “good” or consistent at whatever they believed they were doing, and the faithful were often confused and distraught at what appeared to be their conflicting messages and policies. With Pope Francis all this seems to have changed. He appears to be the first fully “natural” Pope of the Council. This explains why so many delight, and so few fear. It is the perfect recipe for seduction.
"But yet the Son of Man, when he cometh, shall he find, think you, faith on earth"