Featured Image
 giulio napolitano /

October 31, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) — By God’s grace I am a Catholic; by His mercy I shall die one.  I know that whilst the first is a pure gift, the second depends on my free and willing cooperation with grace, on my keeping the Faith, passing on what I myself have been given, fighting the good fight with a clear conscience and persevering in the Faith to the end.  This, of course, also applies to all of us.  

Last year, I spoke at the Rome Life Forum on the Francis Effect.  The talk, much to my surprise, somehow or other, ended up on the internet where, the reactions generated were, for the most part, favourable; the source of a handful of disapproving comments I leave to your imagination.  It was in the initial stage of euphoria that I first received and readily accepted the invitation to speak at this Catholic Truth Scotland Conference but, as the time drew closer, I began having second thoughts for, no authentic Catholic takes pleasure in deprecating any papal document, let alone criticising a reigning Sovereign Pontiff.  However, we now live in desperate times, times of mass confusion where “the banners of darkness are boldly unfurled”, so away with second thoughts and let us speak openly and plainly in defence of our holy Faith and for the glory of God and the salvation of souls.

The Church

From ancient times, the Church has been known as the Barque of Peter.  For this reason, She has often been depicted as a ship sailing on the seas of history. Sometimes calm winds fill her sails and She skims over the waves with a lofty and serene grace.  At other times, however, the winds howl, the sea churns with frothy waves, lightning bolts crisscross the skies, thunder alarms the sailors, and the ship appears to be sinking.  

Since the Lord had to suffer many things before He entered into His glory and St Paul could declare that it is necessary for us to pass “through many tribulations [before we] enter the kingdom of God”, it should come as no surprise that the Church, who is not greater than her Master, is not exempted from sufferings, afflictions and tribulations.  The Church, throughout Her 2000 year history, has experienced tribulations both external and internal.  Not only has She been buffeted by outright State persecution but She has also been lacerated by the great Christological heresies, wounded by the Protestant revolution and, finally in our own time, ravaged by Modernism, the synthesis of all heresies.  Modernism attempts to replace the absolute and unchanging truths with statements that would correspond more with the lived experience of individuals, especially the emotional and sentimental experiences.    

The Church as the Mystical Body of Christ

The Church has been defined as the Mystical Body of Christ: an image found in St Paul’s letters to the Romans, Corinthians, Ephesians and Colossians.  This image succinctly expresses the union and the relationship that exists between each member of the Church with Christ and with each other.  The mystics and the Church Herself have seen the parallel between Eve’s formation from Adam’s side whilst he was asleep and the Church being formed from the pierced side of Christ whilst He slept the sleep of death on the Cross.  

Like a living, physical body, the Mystical Body, in order to grow and develop, had to overcome diverse crises.  The four greatest traumas experienced by the Mystical Body would be the 4th century Arian heresy, the 11th century Investiture controversy, the 16th century Protestant revolution and the current Modernist infiltration, each of which attacks the very nature of the Church.

Christ called Himself the vine and His members the branches.  With this imagery, He would be the skeleton of the Mystical Body with its members being the various organs as St Paul asserts in the Letter to the Corinthians.   Scripturally, bones are symbolic of imperishability since they remain even when, after death, the flesh has decayed.  With this analogy, Arius’ denial of Christ’s divinity is equivalent to an attack on the skeleton of the Mystical Body, which would then, at best, be reduced to just another manmade religion.  Although the conflict was long and bitter and many bishops faltered by succumbing to Arianism, the truth of Christ’s divinity and, with it, the indefectibility of the Church was establish by St Athanasius

The eleventh century conflict between Church and State, that is, between the popes and the princes, is known as the Investiture controversy.  Secular princes and, in particular, the emperor claimed the right to choose men for the episcopate and even for the papal office.  Using the analogy of the physical body, this can be described as an attack on the muscles of the Church, since She would be reduced to nothing other than a puppet of the State.  However, God, working through the Cluny reformers, in due course, brought the great Hildebrand to the papal throne where, as Gregory VII, he fought strenuously and suffered greatly to re-establish the Church’s independence from the State.

The sixteenth century Protestant revolt, spearheaded by Martin Luther and John Calvin, sought not only to change the Church’s teaching on grace and sacraments but, also, to undermine Her divinely constituted teaching authority.  Their attack on the sacraments, by which grace is conferred, was the equivalent of removing the vital internal organs of the Mystical Body, which would have effectively reduced the Church to one among many sects.

In our own time, the Church faces Her greatest challenge in Her confrontation with the goliath of Modernism.   This, Pope St Pius X, in his 1907 encyclical Pascendi dominici gregis, identified and condemned as a “heresy embracing every heresy”.

The Origins of Modernism

Modernism is the offspring of certain tendencies prevalent in 19th century liberal Protestantism and secular philosophy. With centres in France, England, Italy and Germany, the spirit of Modernism was fed by the studies of Kant and Hegel, by liberal Protestant theologians and biblical critics, such as von Harnack, by the evolutionary theories of Darwin, and by certain liberal political movements in Europe.

The two roots of Modernism are the Protestant revolution and the Enlightenment.

  1. The Protestant Revolution. At the heart of the Protestant revolution is the rejection of the Magisterium of the Church as established by Christ in favour of each individual acting as the ultimate authority, thereby interpreting and defining all matters of faith and morals for himself. 

  2. The Enlightenment. The Enlightenment rejected all divine revelation and exalted man's ability, using reason alone, to determine what is true in matters of faith and morals. This eventually led to the Modernist view that truth should be determined by the individual, rather than by God or by the Church’s Magisterium.

Modernism’s two luminaries in the Catholic Church were Fr. Alfred Loisy, a French theologian and Scripture scholar, and Fr. George Tyrrell, an Irish-born Protestant who became a Catholic and Jesuit, though he was dismissed from the Jesuits in 1906.  These men were eventually excommunicated for their espousal of Modernism.

Modernist ideas

Since it has no official creed, Modernism is hard to define.  However, there are some basic components by which it can be identified. Modernism holds that

  1. All religions are equal. Modernism is syncretistic.  That is, for the Modernist, it does not matter whether one is Catholic, Muslim, Hindu, Wiccan or snake handler; all that matters is that one is religious in some way, since all religious paths lead to God.

  2. Religion is not about dogma but about sentimentality and feelings. For the Modernist, religion is essentially about what makes you feel good.  If Christianity, or any other religion, makes you feel good and more in touch with the Divine, then it is true for you. In other words, religion does not consist of creeds or objective truth but rather of feelings. 

  3. The historical Jesus is not necessarily the Jesus of the Gospels. This means, according to the Modernist, from an historical perspective the Scriptures are not necessarily reliable. For example, the Modernist would say that Jesus may not have literally risen from the dead. According to this view, the Resurrection mentioned in Scripture was essentially the way the Apostles chose to communicate the belief that Jesus continues to live in our hearts after His crucifixion.

  4. Evolution of doctrine. The Modernist holds that in previous centuries, the dogmas of the Faith, such as the dogmas of the Trinity, were true but, since dogma evolves, they may no longer be true today. For the Modernist, dogma evolves into whatever accommodates the needs of the current culture..

  5. Connotations of terminology. Modernists retain the orthodox terminology but change the meaning of the terms. Thus, words like ‘God’, ‘Resurrection’, ‘Trinity’, and ‘salvation’ are all used by the Modernists.  However, what Modernists mean and understand by these terms is totally different from that which the Church understands and has traditionally taught.   For this reason, Modernists may appear to be orthodox but, by carefully sifting through their meaning of the terminology they use, their true nature is soon discovered.

  6. Secularism and other Enlightenment principles.  Secularism rests on the principle that, since the cause and focus of religion lies primarily in the feelings of believers, no scientific or reasonable assumption of its truth can be made. Thus, in any given State, all religions are equal and, on principle, no one religion should be favoured over another.  Therefore, the best course of action in politics and other civic fields is to follow whatever flows from a common understanding of the ‘good’ by various groups and religions. By implication, Church and State should be separated and the laws of the latter, for example, the prohibition of murder, should cover only the common ground of thought systems held by the various religious groups., .

Modernism’s ultimate position is that the content of Church dogmas does not remain the same for all time but rather, it evolves over time changing not only in its expression but also in its substance.  This postulate is responsible for Modernism’s uniqueness in the history of Church heresies.  By definition, a heretic is someone who believes and teaches tenets at variance to what the Church believes. This ordinarily would lead to excommunication from the Church.  Using the new idea that doctrines evolve, it is now possible for the Modernist to accept both the traditional teachings of the Church and his new, seemingly contradictory teachings as being equally correct — each group having own its time and place. This system allows for almost any type of new belief which the Modernist in question might wish to introduce and, for this reason, Modernism was labelled by Pope Pius X as “the synthesis of all heresies”.

With this understanding, Modernism is now easily recognised as a heresy that attacks the mind of the Mystical Body so that the Church leaders behave schizophrenically and the laity act as if suffering from some form of dementia.  Further, not only do both groups forget who they are but they are equally quite incapable of handing on the fullness of Faith and the Catholic identity to succeeding generations.

Peter and his successors

In the Genesis, we read that “the Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to till it and keep it.”  That is, God assigned Adam two tasks: first he was to cultivate the Garden and secondly, he was to guard it.  His failure in the second task gave the serpent his opportunity.  Christ entrusted to Simon Peter the visible leadership of the Church with the double task of feeding and tending the flock.  That is, as a good shepherd, he was to guard, protect and preach the Faith to the flock and so keep them from error and deception.  Our Lord, at the Last Supper, warned Peter that the serpent was already watching and merely waiting for an opportunity to attack.  Specifically, with words expressing both what Satan desired and what God permitted, Christ said: “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren.”  God permitted this trial for at least two reasons. First, that the Apostles might understand how weak they were of themselves and second that after their fall, they would rise again by His grace and would be cleansed and purified as sifted wheat.  Peter’s fall was followed by his sincere repentance and so, Christ not only granted mercy to him but also, confirmed Peter’s headship over the other Apostles and over the whole Church.  

Papal vigilance

The slow development of Modernism, whose main tactic is the use of equivocation and confusion to spread lethal errors, was tracked by the popes of the 19th century.  Thus, Pius VI lifts the mask of Modernism in his Bull Auctorem Fidei:  In order not to shock the ears of Catholics, the innovators sought to hide the subtleties of their tortuous manoeuvres by the use of seemingly innocuous words such as would allow them to insinuate error into souls in the most gentle manner. Once the truth had been compromised, they could, by means of slight changes or additions in phraseology, distort the confession of the faith that is necessary for our salvation, and lead the faithful by subtle errors to their eternal damnation.  This manner of dissimulating and lying is vicious, regardless of the circumstances under which it is used. For very good reasons it can never be tolerated in a synod of which the principal glory consists above all in teaching the truth with clarity and excluding all danger of error.

Moreover, if all this is sinful, it cannot be excused in the way that one sees it being done, under the erroneous pretext that the seemingly shocking affirmations in one place are further developed along orthodox lines in other places, and even in yet other places corrected; as if allowing for the possibility of either affirming or denying the statement, or of leaving it up the personal inclinations of the individual – such has always been the fraudulent and daring method used by innovators to establish error. It allows for both the possibility of promoting error and of excusing it.

It is a most reprehensible technique for the insinuation of doctrinal errors and one condemned long ago by our predecessor St. Celestine who found it used in the writings of Nestorius, bishop of Constantinople, [who] was exposed and confounded, for he expressed himself in a plethora of words, mixing true things with others that were obscure; mixing at times one with the other in such a way that he was also able to confess those things which were denied while at the same time possessing a basis for denying those very sentences which he confessed.

Having clearly identified Modernism as a movement, St. Pius X was deeply concerned by its ability to allow its adherents to believe themselves loyal Catholics while their notion of evolution of dogma allowed them to hold markedly different understanding of the traditional Faith.  Therefore, he condemned both its aims and ideas in the document Lamentabili and in his encyclical Pascendi where sixty-five propositions were identified as Modernist heresies.  Then, in 1910, he followed up with the introduction of an anti-modernist oath, which was to be taken by all Catholic bishops, priests and academic teachers of religion.  Thus contained, Modernism went underground, until, like the genie in the bottle, it was freed in the wake of Vatican II.

St Pius X saw clearly that the enemies of the Church had not only increased but, had also penetrated her walls: “It must be confessed that the number of the enemies of the cross of Christ has in these last days increased exceedingly, who are striving, by arts, entirely new and full of subtlety, to destroy the vital energy of the Church, and, if they can, to overthrow utterly Christ’s kingdom itself.”…

“Hence, the danger is present almost in the very veins and heart of the Church, whose injury is the more certain from the very fact that their knowledge of her is more intimate. Moreover, they lay the axe not to the branches and shoots, but to the very root, that is, to the faith and its deepest fibres. And once having struck at this root of immortality, they proceed to diffuse poison through the whole tree, so that there is no part of Catholic truth which they leave untouched, none that they do not strive to corrupt.”  

Pope John XXIII, however, saw things differently and, rejecting the admonitions of his predecessors about the dangers of Modernity, declared in his opening address at the Second Vatican Council:

“In the daily exercise of our pastoral office, we sometimes have to listen, much to our regret, to voices of persons who, though burning with zeal, are not endowed with too much sense of discretion or measure. In these modern times they can see nothing but prevarication and ruin. They say that our era, in comparison with past eras, is getting worse, and they behave as though they had learned nothing from history, which is, none the less, the teacher of life. They behave as though at the time of former Councils everything was a full triumph for the Christian idea and life and for proper religious liberty.

We feel we must disagree with those prophets of gloom, who are always forecasting disaster, as though the end of the world were at hand.

In the present order of things, Divine Providence is leading us to a new order of human relations which, by men's own efforts and even beyond their very expectations, are directed toward the fulfilment of God's superior and inscrutable designs. And everything, even human differences, leads to the greater good of the Church. . . . .

At the outset of the Second Vatican Council, it is evident, as always, that the truth of the Lord will remain forever. We see, in fact, as one age succeeds another, that the opinions of men follow one another and exclude each other. And often errors vanish as quickly as they arise, like fog before the sun.  The Church has always opposed these errors. Frequently she has condemned them with the greatest severity. Nowadays however, the Spouse of Christ prefers to make use of the medicine of mercy rather than that of severity. She considers that she meets the needs of the present day by demonstrating the validity of her teaching rather than by condemnations.”  

The last fifty years, since the close of the Council, has seen a sea change in the Catholic Church to the extent that today She cannot be easily recognised as the same institution of any previous century, so profoundly has the Council affected all aspects of Church life and practice.   

The chequered history of the papacy shows, in the words of St Vincent of Lerins, that “God gives some Popes to the Church, God tolerates some Popes in the Church and God inflicts some Popes on the Church.”  This certainly is a view to which Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI subscribes.  It is perhaps sufficient to recall the famous interview he granted in 1997 to professor August Everding, Professor Everding asked the then Cardinal Ratzinger if he truly believed that the Holy Spirit intervenes in the election of a Pope. Ratzinger's answer was simple and clarifying, as usual: “I would say not in the sense that the Holy Spirit chooses any particular pope, because there is plenty of evidence to the contrary – there have been many whom the Holy Spirit quite obviously would not have chosen! But, that He does not altogether relinquish control, but rather like a good educator keeps us on a very long cord, so to speak, allowing us a great deal of freedom, but never unfastening the cord – that’s how I would put it. It needs to be taken in a very broad sense and not as if He says, 'You’ve got to pick this one!' What He allows, however, is limited to the fact that everything cannot be completely ruined.”

There is no doubt that the Church is currently in a state of deep crisis, which has been brought to a head by the current Pontiff.  As David’s accession to the throne was a blessing to the Israelites and that of Saul or Rehoboam, Solomon’s son a punishment, so we can be certain that God has given each of Blessed Peter’s successors to the Church as the pope best suited for that time.

I believe that Francis in undoubtedly a pope suited for our time in that he has, in three short years, opened the eyes of many to the diseases plaguing the Mystical Body of Christ.  Without doubt, he is advancing ideas that provoke such disturbances within the Church that they would appear to be a very efficient way of separating sheep from goats.  In stark contrast to the reception given to his predecessors, even his immediate predecessors, it is striking that the Church’s traditional enemies all applaud him, recognising him as their own.

His actions have the effect of revealing the extent of the rot of Modernism within power structures of the Church.  Perhaps the most notorious example of this is the confidence with which Cardinals Godfried Danneels and Walter Kasper could openly and publically admit to being part of the St Gallen Mafia Club.

The Holy Father seems to be the very personification of the Second Vatican Council, with its multitudinous ambiguities in which the Church’s traditional understanding or practice is affirmed in one place, only, in another place, to be immediately contradicted or neutralised by the alternatives being permitted.  Additionally, Vatican II has the distinction of being the only ecumenical Council in Church history to win the world’s approval and similarly, Francis has received praise as no other Pope in history has ever been praised by the Church’s adversaries.

In many ways, the current pontiff fits the caricature that non-Catholics have of the pope: an autocrat whose every word must be obeyed. Indeed, his demand for compliance with his directives rings hollow when one considers his own violation of the Church’s liturgical laws as archbishop of Buenos Aires.  For example, whilst he was archbishop, he included women in the ceremony of the washing of feet on Holy Thursday in infringement of clear liturgical laws.  He also admitted to the sacraments, without amendment of life, remarried divorcees in outright violation of Canon Law, of the teachings of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, of the encyclical Veritatis Splendor of Pope St John Paul II and of documents issued by Roman dicasteries.

We are living in duplicitous times.  The post-synodal exhortation Amoris Laetitia is, to date, the greatest scandal of this pontificate as it contains key passages that are “intentionally ambiguous, as proven by the multiple and contrasting interpretations and practical applications that they immediately received”.  For instance, certain paragraphs of chapter eight give the go-ahead for communion for the divorced and remarried. Although this is quite contrary to the Church’s clear immemorial teaching and practice, it was already being illicitly done when Pope Francis was archbishop of Buenos Aires.  Even more troubling is the discovery that key passages of Amoris Laetitia were formulated some ten years ago by the then professor of theology, Victor Manuel Fernandez in articles, which gave a dissenting critique of Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor.  The upshot is that the two Synods on the Family would appear to be a farce designed to produce pre-determined results.  

According to this same Fernandez who is now an archbishop, Pope Francis plans to make permanent changes in the Church in ways that cannot be undone by future popes.  He responded to a reporter’s question, saying “The pope goes slow because he wants to be sure that the changes have a deep impact. The slow pace is necessary to ensure the effectiveness of the changes. He knows there are those hoping that the next pope will turn everything back around. If you go slowly it's more difficult to turn things back… . You have to realize that he is aiming at reform that is irreversible”.

For the informed Catholic, all these things are, of course, extremely disturbing.  Yet, we must remember that we are not fighting flesh and blood.  The current situation is desperate but it also brings into focus the lament of Paul VI on 29th June, 1972.  Celebrating the ninth anniversary of his pontificate in St Peter’s, Paul reflected to the situation of the Church at that time, saying that he had a sense that “from some fissure the smoke of Satan has entered the temple of God.  There is doubt, incertitude, problematic, disquiet, dissatisfaction, confrontation.  There is no longer trust of the Church; they trust the first profane prophet who speaks in some journal or some social movement, and they run after him and ask him if he has the formula of true life.  And we are not alert to the fact that we are already the owners and masters of the formula of true life.  Doubt has entered our consciences, and it entered by windows that should have been open to the light.  Science exists to give us truths that do not separate from God, but make us seek him all the more and celebrate him with greater intensity; instead, science gives us criticism and doubt.  Scientists are those who more thoughtfully and more painfully exert their minds.  But they end up teaching us:  “I don’t know, we don’t know, we cannot know.”  The school becomes the gymnasium of confusion and sometimes of absurd contradictions.  Progress is celebrated, only so that it can then be demolished with revolutions that are more radical and more strange, so as to negate everything that has been achieved, and to come away as primitives after having so exalted the advances of the modern world.

This state of uncertainty even holds sway in the Church.  There was the belief that after the Council there would be a day of sunshine for the history of the Church.  Instead, it is the arrival of a day of clouds, of tempest, of darkness, of research, of uncertainty.  We preach ecumenism but we constantly separate ourselves from others.  We seek to dig abysses instead of filling them in.

How has this come about?  Answering the question himself, the Pope said that there has been an intervention of an adverse power.  Its name is the devil, this mysterious being that the Letter of St. Peter also alludes to.  So many times, furthermore, in the Gospel, on the lips of Christ himself, the mention of this enemy of men returns.  The Holy Father observes, “We believe in something that is preternatural that has come into the world precisely to disturb, to suffocate the fruits of the Ecumenical Council, and to impede the Church from breaking into the hymn of joy at having renewed in fullness its awareness of itself.  Precisely for this reason, we should wish to be able, …, to exercise the function God assigned to Peter, to strengthen the Faith of the brothers.  We should wish to communicate to you this charism of certitude that the Lord gives to him who represents him though unworthily on this earth.”  Faith gives us certitude, security, when it is based upon the Word of God accepted and consented to with our very own reason and with our very own human spirit.  Whoever believes with simplicity, with humility, sense that he is on the good road, that he has an interior testimony that strengthens him in the difficult conquest of the truth.

Let us now add the Fatima revelations to this mix.  It is well known that Our Lady appeared in Fatima, Portugal to three children in 1917 and that certain secrets were entrusted to them.  One of those secrets required the Pope united with the bishops to consecrate Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.  It has recently been made known by Cardinal Carlo Caffarra that Pope John Paul II asked him to begin a new Pontifical Institute for studies on marriage and the family.  In 1980, he wrote to Sister Lucy, the last surviving visionary, simply requesting her prayers for this venture and was surprised at receiving “a very long letter with her signature. . . . In it we find written: ‘The final battle between the Lord and the reign of Satan will be about marriage and the family. Don’t be afraid, because anyone who works for the sanctity of marriage and the family will always be contended and opposed in every way, for this is the decisive issue.’ And then she concluded: ‘however, Our Lady has already crushed its head.’”

This reassurance is encouraging, because fifteen years after Sister Lucia wrote that letter, Cardinal Luigi Ciappi (1909-1996), personal theological adviser to five popes, made a stunning disclosure about that part of the Fatima secret that the Vatican has never released (and which is evidently referenced by the enigmatic word “etc.” in the published part of Our Lady’s message). His Eminence, one of the few persons who had seen the complete secret, wrote in a 1995 letter to Professor Baumgartner of Salzburg: “In the Third Secret it is predicted, among other things, that the great apostasy in the Church will begin at the top.”

This apostasy seems to have been foreseen by Pope Saint Pius X, who, in 1910 wrote the French Hierarchy, in a letter entitled Our Apostolic Mandate, “…the great movement of apostasy being organized in every country for the establishment of a One-World Church which shall have neither dogmas, nor hierarchy, neither discipline for the mind, nor curb for the passions, and which, under the pretext of freedom and human dignity, would bring back to the world (if such a Church could overcome) the reign of legalized cunning and force, and the oppression of the weak, and of all those who toil and suffer”.

Although Our Lord promised that the gates of Hell would not prevail against His Church, and that He would assist Her daily to the end of time, He made no promise, however, that She would not undergo crises, dissensions, betrayals, scandals and apparent failures.  On the contrary, Our Lord's parables about the Kingdom of God, which is His Church, clearly affirmed that good and bad alike would exist in Her bosom until the end of time. Only then will God send His angels to cleanse the earth of scandal.

This earthly life is a period of trial. Thus, some will do evil and give scandal to others. “It is impossible that scandals should not come,” says Our Lord, “but woe to him through whom they come!”  Saint Paul explains how these scandals help purify our Faith: “For there must be also heresies: that they, also, who are approved, may be made manifest among you.’

In its exposition on the Fifth Commandment, the Catechism of the Catholic Church defines scandal as “an attitude or behaviour which leads another to do evil. The person who gives scandal becomes his neighbour's tempter. He damages virtue and integrity; he may even draw his brother into spiritual death. Scandal is a grave offense if by deed or omission another is deliberately led into a grave offense.” CCC§2284  

Thus, scandal is essentially giving bad example by word or deed so that another person is tempted to imitate the bad example.  The case of Peter’s dissimulation at Antioch by not eating with the Gentiles is an example of giving scandal.  Conscious that Peter’s position as the visible head of the Church would give his bad example an authoritative value, St Paul took him to task publically.  The gravity of the scandal given by those in positions of authority is noted also by the Catechism where it states that “Scandal takes on a particular gravity by reason of the authority of those who cause it or the weakness of those who are scandalized. It prompted our Lord to utter this curse: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” Scandal is grave when given by those who by nature or office are obliged to teach and educate others. Jesus reproaches the scribes and Pharisees on this account: he likens them to wolves in sheep's clothing”. CCC§2285

It should be noted that those who cause scandals that lead others to sin are guilty of the spiritual equivalent of murder, while those who take scandal, that is, who allow scandals to destroy their faith, are guilty of spiritual suicide.  It is important to remember that the Council of Trent declared that the Church is neither a “Church of Saints” nor “Church of the Predestined” but that She holds within Her bosom both the righteous and the sinner.  

The Catechism also notes that “Scandal can be provoked by laws or institutions, by fashion or opinion.” CCC§2286  Specifically, it continues “Therefore, they are guilty of scandal who establish laws or social structures leading to the decline of morals and the corruption of religious practice, or to “social conditions that, intentionally or not, make Christian conduct and obedience to the Commandments difficult and practically impossible.” This is also true of business leaders who make rules encouraging fraud, teachers who provoke their children to anger, or manipulators of public opinion who turn it away from moral values.”  

It seems to me that to encourage unrepentant sinners to access the sacraments would fall under this censure.  It is difficult to see how the author of Amoris Laetitia can escape the following obloquy pronounced by the Catechism “Anyone who uses the power at his disposal in such a way that it leads others to do wrong becomes guilty of scandal and responsible for the evil that he has directly or indirectly encouraged. “Temptations to sin are sure to come; but woe to him by whom they come!””  CCC§2287

God permits temptation but, He always provides sufficient grace to resist.  Saint Paul teaches: “God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that which you are able: but will make also with temptation issue, that you may be able to bear it.”

Expounding on the episode of Our Lord asleep in the boat, Saint John Chrysostom explains that the storm symbolizes the Church's future trials, during which the faithful, the athletes of Christ, will be fortified.

The Church is the “House of God” whose cornerstone is Christ.  It is “the Holy City, the New Jerusalem” brought down from Heaven.  However, God permits temptations even inside this sacred place, as our first parents were tested in the Earthly Paradise and Christ in the Temple. In this way, our love is purged of all attachments to divine consolation and to human concerns.

The Lord Himself foretold scandals

Saint Augustine explains that there will always be some bishops resembling the Good Shepherd and others representing the hireling. He wrote to Felicia, a virgin who grieved over the scandals then plaguing the Church:

I exhort you not to let yourself be too much troubled by scandals, which indeed were foretold precisely so that when they happen we may remember that they were foretold and not be disconcerted. For the Lord Himself foretold them in the Gospel. “Woe to the world because of scandals.   For it must needs be that scandals come: but nevertheless, woe to that man by whom the scandal cometh” (Mt. l8:7)…. Thus, there are those who hold the office of shepherds that, they may watch over Christ's sheep; and there are those who hold it for the sake of temporal honours and worldly advantages. These two kinds of pastors, always dying and giving place to others, will both be perpetuated in the bosom of the Catholic Church till time ends and the Lord comes to judgment.

Why this trial

It has been made clear that the Church’s journey on the seas of history has not always been calm or tranquil.  Just fifty years ago, the storms of Vatican II blew so violently that it seemed the Church would go under.  After a brief lull, the winds have picked up again and now it seems with an even greater fury.

The Lord permits this time of trial that we might trust Him more even though the trial may also serve as punishment for our infidelities as was prophesied by the fifteenth century St. Nicholas of Flue “The Church will be punished because the majority of her members, high and low, will become so perverted. The Church will sink deeper and deeper until she will at last seem to be extinguished, and the succession of Peter and the other Apostles to have expired. But, after this, she will be victoriously exalted in the sight of all doubters.”   The reason for our current trial is relatively unimportant. What is important is that in these times, as the roaring squall tosses Peter's Barque about and the Saviour sleeps, we should, with the Apostles, cry out: “Lord, save us for we perish!”  Awakening, Jesus will reassure us as He did them: “Why are you fearful, O ye of little faith?”  Then He will stand up and in an imposing voice order the storm to cease and the sea to be quiet.

Now, as in the past, the various squalls, storms and hurricanes seem to have one objective, that is, to change the Church and, the response has always been “hold on to that which has been received from the Fathers”, that is, the Tradition.  This is certainly the advice of St Paul:

I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you 1Cor.11:2

So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter. 2Thes.2:15

I appeal to you, brethren, to take note of those who create dissensions and difficulties, in opposition to the doctrine which you have been taught; avoid them. Rom.16:17

As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, 1Tim.1:3

The Catholic Faith is always recognised by its adherence to what had once been delivered to it.  St.  Athanasius, therefore, could say “Even if Catholics faithful to Tradition are reduced to a handful, they are the ones who are the True Church of Jesus Christ.”  Likewise for St. Peter Canisius “Better that only a few Catholics should be left, staunch and sincere in their religion, than that they should, remaining many, desire as it were, to be in collusion with the Church's enemies and in conformity with the open foes of our faith”, which Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger once echoed “Better a smaller but more faithful Church”. 

Suggestions on how to survive and remain Catholic in these times

A great fault of Catholics is that we have a too exalted view of the papacy, a poor knowledge of history and a very deficient understanding of human nature.  Consequently, not only do we find it hard to criticise the imprudent actions of an incumbent pope but, we border on papolatry. While veneration of the Successor of St Peter is praiseworthy and even necessary, we must always remember that he is called, first and foremost, to be a protector of the Faith and, any deviation from this role should immediately set off alarm bells.

Papal infallibility is among the most misunderstood of Catholic doctrines.  Correctly understood, the pope is infallible, that is, preserved from teaching error when, and only when, certain specific conditions are met.  These conditions are that the Pope must (1) intend to teach (2) the whole Church (3) by virtue of his supreme authority (4) on matters of faith or morals.  However, should one or more of these conditions be lacking, his teaching, even though worthy of respect on account of his office, would not be infallible. If all conditions are met then his teaching act is called “infallible” and the teaching which he articulates is termed “irreformable”.

St. Peter has had some 265 successors who can be classed as good, fair, bad, nefarious or calamitous.  Considering the spiritual nature of the papacy, it is important to remember that the quality of a pontificate is not judged solely by its historical, social or political impact but, rather, on whether or not, by word and deed, the pope damages the Faith of the Church, obscures aspects of the image of God or fails to uphold the true human dignity, which the Church has the obligation to defend, to transmit and to deepen.

A brief historical review would show that the See of Peter has been occupied by men whose reign, under the above criteria, can be described as calamitous.  Examples of such popes would include:

  • Pope Liberius, who, in the 4th century, surrendered to strong Arian pressure.  He accepted an ambiguous position regarding this heresy, which left Saint Athanasius and other defenders of the Trinitarian dogma in the lurch.  He is the first non-canonized Pope.   

  • Pope Anastasius II, in the 5th century, flirted with the defenders of the Acacian schism.  

  • Pope John XXII, in the 14th century, taught that the vision of the God by the just does not occur before the Last Judgment.  

  • The popes of the “Great Western Schism”, in the 14th-15th centuries excommunicated each other.  

  • Pope Leo X, in the 16th century, brought disrepute to the papacy not only by his luxurious lifestyle but, also, by his scandalous trafficking in indulgences.  

The actions and omissions of these popes resulted, not only in the obscuring of part of the treasure of the Faith for a period of time but also, in creating huge internal tensions within the Church.

The current tension, confusion and division in the Church suggest that we are, again, living in calamitous times.  History has shown that, in similar circumstances, Catholics remained Catholic by imitating St. Paul, who fought the good fight, finished the race and kept the Faith.  We must do likewise. We ought, therefore, to

  1. Keep calm and pray. Our Lord is in the boat!  Nothing is solved by despondency, anger or hysteria. The battle is the Lord’s.  The survival and stability of the Church does not depend on us but, rather on the One who established Her for our salvation. In moments of distress, it is necessary to pray, pray and pray, so that the Master will awake to calm the storm. It is necessary that we be truly convinced that the Church is supported by a God who loves Her, and who will not allow Her to be destroyed. Let us pray, therefore, for the reformation of our clergy and hierarchy so that the present calamitous times may be shortened and be followed by a pontificate of restoration and peace. Many dry branches will be lost during the current storm but, those remaining united to Christ will bloom again. Remember to pray the Rosary! “But watch at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of man” “Watch & pray that you fall not into temptation”.  

  1. Study and be informed.  We must know our Faith!  

    1. First, we must be familiar with the Scriptures, know the perennial teachings of the Church and understand the principles of moral theology.

    2. Second, we must understand and correctly analyse the present situation, read authoritative histories of the Church and of the papacy.  This knowledge will convince us of the “unsinkability” of Peter’s Barque.  The Church suffers from the weaknesses of Her members but, cannot sink because of them. She has been afflicted in the past and we can expect afflictions to happen in the present as well as in the future.  

    3. Third, we must read the lives of the saints and try to emulate them.  “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God; consider the outcome of their life, and imitate their faith.  Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings”.

  1. Share the Faith. Transmit the Faith by teaching and sharing it within the family circle, by practising it and by praying together as a family.  Additionally,

    1. Do not give in to apocalyptic warnings.  History has recorded that turbulent times are often regarded as signs of the end times. We should, however, live each day as our last day so that we will be prepared for death.  The end times will come at the appointed time of which we know neither the day nor the hour. God will provide the necessary graces for that day.

    2. Do not keep silence, nor look away. Evil prospers when the good do nothing.  Therefore, it is important to speak up, to ask questions and to complain.  If the captain of the ship is sick, drunk or mad, it is necessary to point this out so that the course of the ship can be corrected.  St Paul did exactly this in taking Peter to task!  The pope is not an autocrat, a tyrant or the leader of a sect but, a servant of the Gospel and of the Church.  He is a free and human servant who, as such, can occasionally make bad decisions or adopt objectionable attitudes, which should be reprehended.

    3. Do not follow the instructions that deviates from the treasure of the Church.  If a Pope should teach doctrines or should try to impose practices that do not correspond to the perennial teaching of the Church, as summarized in the Catechism, he should not be supported or obeyed in his intent. This means, for example, that priests and bishops are under the obligation to insist on traditional doctrine and practice, rooted in the deposit of the Faith, even at the cost of exposing themselves to punishment. The lay faithful must likewise insist on being fed with traditional doctrine and practice. Under no circumstances, not even out of blind obedience or fear of reprisals, is it acceptable to contribute to the spreading of heterodoxy or heteropraxis.

  1. Support fellow Catholics. We must support each other and all true and authentic Catholic speakers and organisations

    1. Do not support any schism.  We must remember that we are Catholics and that we have a pope, who no earthly power can remove.  Therefore, we must remain in the Barque of Peter where Christ sleeps. Every Catholic has the duty to try to minimize, from within the Church, all the negative effects of a bad pontificate but, without breaking the Church or breaking with the Church. This means, for instance, if one’s refusal to adopt some faulty teaching or practice would lead to punishment, he must not on that account initiate a new schism or support any of those already in place. It is necessary for him to keep being a Catholic under any and all circumstances.

    2. Do not generalize. Bad pontificates often result in the wrong men achieving positions of power and influence in the Church.  It should be remembered that there will also be good men.  Therefore, measure each cardinal, bishop and priest according to his fidelity to the Faith.  Raise objections only in regard to those that deviate from the immemorial doctrine of the Church or, who adopt positions that may compromise the Faith.  This course of action was succinctly taught by St. Thomas Aquinas who said “In accepting or rejecting opinions, a man must not be influenced by love or hatred of him who proffers the opinions, but only by the certainty of the truth.”

  1. Martyrdom! We should prepare ourselves for martyrdom.  In the Nobis quoque of the Roman Canon we pray: To us, also, your servants, who, though sinners, hope in your abundant mercies, graciously grant some share and fellowship with your holy Apostles and Martyrs: with John the Baptist, Stephen, Matthias, Barnabas… and all your Saints; admit us, we beseech you, into their company, not weighing our merits, but granting us your pardon, through Christ our Lord.

The text was presented by Fr. Clovis at the Catholic Truth Scotland conference in June 2016.