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Francis and the Paradox of Rigid Flexibility

by Christopher A. Ferrara
November 30, 2016

It might seem that this column in recent days has morphed from “Fatima Perspectives” to “Papal Perspectives” inasmuch as much of what has appeared here since the election of Jorge Bergoglio as Pope pertains to his words and deeds.

But then nothing could be more relevant from the perspective of Fatima than the current pontificate. To recall what I have noted often here, back in the 1990s Sister Lucia warned Cardinal Caffarra — one of the four cardinals who have just publicly challenged Pope Bergoglio concerning the grave problems with Amoris Latetia — that “the final battle between the Lord and the reign of Satan will be about marriage and the family.”

The final battle.  What could be more important from this Fatima perspective than the final conflict between Our Lord and the Evil One? Surely it is precisely this final conflict that is foretold with prophetic accuracy in the whole of the Third Secret, including the text of the Virgin’s explanation which certainly exists.

This final battle is obviously taking place before our eyes precisely on account of the Bergoglian program, pursued with relentless consistency for more than three years, to loosen the Church’s doctrine and intrinsically related Eucharistic discipline concerning sexual immorality in general and divorce in particular.  Thus we hear incessantly from Francis and his collaborators about “mercy” and “discernment” of “concrete circumstances” — as if application of the Sixth Commandment, a universally binding negative precept of the divine and natural law that admits of no exceptions, somehow varies according to one’s situation, which is just situation ethics by another name.

As the blog site Rorate Caeli notes respecting Francis:

“It is extremely difficult to keep up with the unending barrage of words from Pope Francis. One interview after another, press conferences, speeches, letters, phone calls, off-the-cuff remarks, daily homilies... the endless flow of words results in people knowing not so much what the Pope has exactly said on this or that topic, but rather the general run of this Pope's thinking and the main themes of his stated policies.

I too have struggled to keep up with that barrage of words, but I agree that in the midst of all the verbiage the Pope’s overall themes are unmistakable.  To quote Rorate again:  “One of the increasingly prominent themes of the Franciscan pontificate is the need to combat ‘rigidity’ among seminarians, the need to teach them ‘discernment’ (especially by Jesuits) and the need to exercise ‘vigilance’ over new vocations, so that ‘quality’ is valued over ‘quantity.’”

True, but there is a subtext that is just as clear: When Francis incessantly denounces “rigidity” and demands “discernment” and “vigilance” over vocations to the priesthood he is actually promoting the paradox of a rigid flexibility in the Church.  That is, he is flexible only regarding certain things while being utterly rigid in his overall approach.  He expects flexibility only where he demands flexibility — that is, as to sins of the flesh — but certainly not as to the other sins he condemns almost daily, including greed and “grave sin against ecumenism,” which he literally invented. 

On the other hand, Francis is utterly rigid in insisting upon his selectively flexible approach.  Hence the purge from the Vatican departments of virtually every prelate who opposes his liberalization program regarding sexual morality. That purge began with Cardinal Burke, now the spokesman for the four cardinals who politely challenged Francis to explain whether he intends with Amoris Laetitia to undermine the Church’s entire teaching and practice on the absolute indissolubility of marriage and the absolute impermissibility of Holy Communion for unrepentant public adulterers in “second marriages.”

Hence also the dictatorial demand that bishops exercise “vigilance” over seminarians who, according to Francis, are “too confident, rigid and fundamentalist.” The bishops must make sure that they imbue in seminarians what Francis calls the “dynamic of pastoral discernment, which respects the law but knows how to go beyond” — beyond the law of God! — because “We need to truly understand this: in life not all is black on white or white on black. The shades of grey prevail in life. We must teach them to discern in this gray area.”

Astonishing pronouncements from a Pope, like nothing the Church has ever seen. But, again, all of this applies only in the realm of sexual immorality.  When it comes to the sins Francis deems intolerable, there is no call for “discernment” nor any “shades of gray” but only the drumbeat of incessant condemnation.

This paradox of a rigidly flexible Pope is yet another of the frightening developments that have rocked the Church to her foundations since that fateful year of 1960, when, as Sister Lucia recorded, the Third Secret was to have been revealed “by express order of Our Lady.”  And now the final battle of which Sister Lucia warned an eminent Cardinal decades ago, who today publicly confronts a wayward Pope, is upon us.  Only God knows how and when He will have His final victory with the Triumph of the Immaculate Heart.