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‘Francis has built his popularity at the expense of the church he leads’: New York Times op-ed

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October 3, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) — When First Things editor Matthew Schmitz wrote an article last week in the New York Times outlining how Pope Francis has “failed” Catholic faithful in a number of ways, Catholic World Report editor Carl Olson could not help but agree, penning his own piece that took Schmitz’s thoughts even further.

In his Sept. 28 article titled “Has Pope Francis Failed?” Schmitz answers ‘yes’ when he observes what the “Francis effect” has done to the Church, at least in the U.S.

Schmitz writes that while Francis has “placed a great emphasis on reaching out to disaffected Catholics” with his “non-dogmatic tone with statements like ‘Who am I to judge?’ and his “softer stance on communion for the divorced and remarried,” Sunday Mass attendance numbers have dropped since he became pope, especially among young Catholics.

Not only has Sunday Mass attendance dropped under Francis but even various kinds of religious observances.

“In 2008, 50 percent of millennials reported receiving ashes on Ash Wednesday, and 46 percent said they made some sacrifice beyond abstaining from meat on Fridays. This year, only 41 percent reported receiving ashes and only 36 percent said they made an extra sacrifice, according to [Georgetown’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate],” Schmitz writes.

“In spite of Francis’ personal popularity, young people seem to be drifting away from the faith,” he adds.

Schmitz opines that despite Francis’ popularity, the Church has not been “reinvigorated” because he has not given the “disaffected any reason to return.”

“He describes parish priests as ‘little monsters’ who ‘throw stones’ at poor sinners. He has given curial officials a diagnosis of ‘spiritual Alzheimer’s.’ He scolds pro-life activists for their ‘obsession’ with abortion. He has said that Catholics who place an emphasis on attending Mass, frequenting confession, and saying traditional prayers are ‘Pelagians’ — people who believe, heretically, that they can be saved by their own works,” he writes.

“Such denunciations demoralize faithful Catholics without giving the disaffected any reason to return. Why join a church whose priests are little monsters and whose members like to throw stones? When the pope himself stresses internal spiritual states over ritual observance, there is little reason to line up for confession or wake up for Mass,” he adds.

Schmitz concludes that Francis’ popularity as a softy when it comes to Church teaching goes along with an unexpected price tag.

“Francis has built his popularity at the expense of the church he leads. Those who wish to see a stronger church may have to wait for a different kind of pope. Instead of trying to soften the church’s teaching, such a man would need to speak of the way hard disciplines can lead to freedom. Confronting a hostile age with the strange claims of Catholic faith may not be popular, but over time it may prove more effective. Even Christ was met with the jeers of the crowd,” he concludes.

Olson, who titled his Sept. 28 article with Schmitz’s conclusion ‘Francis has built his popularity at the expense of the church he leads,’ picks up where Schmitz left off.

“Schmitz can only touch on some of these matters in passing, but those of us who have been following this papacy closely from the start know how the past three years have witnessed a steady stream of confusion, hyperbole, "ambiguities, inconsistencies, mixed messages, imprecisions, thinly veiled insults" — not to mention the odd use and misuse of language in the service of more confusion,” he writes.

Olson writes that he agrees with Schmitz’s assessment that the pope’s “denunciations" of faithful Catholics demoralizes them without giving the disaffected any reason to return.

“Francis is mostly liked and lauded by those who see his pontificate as the start of a revolution overthrowing the usual litany of criticisms tossed at the Church: it is too patriarchal, rigid, narrow-minded, moralistic, judgmental, bigoted, homophobic, Islamophobic, etc., etc. Yes, there are Catholics who are upset and even angry at Francis, but the overwhelming response, in my experience, is simply, "What is he doing? And why?" he writes.

Olson wonders if Schmitz is right in saying that Francis is “trying to soften Church teaching.”

“Personally, I see no way around that conclusion. After all, if Francis never meant to change or soften Church teaching, why the constant reliance on Cardinal Kasper and other Germans, the two Synods, the regular confusion, the jostling and posturing, the endless ‘gestures,’ the angry address at the conclusion of the 2015 Synod, the often tortured and purposeful ambiguity of chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia, and so forth?” he writes.

“It is unfortunate — indeed, deeply painful — to see such confusion, turmoil, and frustration so often generated by the Barque of Peter, which should instead be providing solace, comfort, shelter, and clarity amid the dark waves of an increasingly antagonistic and volatile world,” he concludes.

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