Dr Philippa Martyr: The cutout Francis of the reformers

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The Pope Francis of Plenary ‘reformers’ bears little resemblance to the real Vicar of Christ and his teachings. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

I think the Plenary Council was in some ways a success for all the wrong reasons. It showed the divisions in the Church in Australia in a way that can’t be un-seen. I’m glad that some of those who preached their versions of tolerance, acceptance, and ‘synodality’ so publicly showed themselves to be incapable of it in real life. I hope the bishops don’t forget this in a hurry.

Now that we’re all moving on, I think it’s a good time to talk about authority. This was one of the many missing elements in the Plenary Council deliberations.

And yet it’s critical. Just who does have the authority to teach in the name of Jesus Christ and make those teachings binding?

The Plenary Council process was openly used by people who want to replace the teaching authority of the Church and its bishops with their own ideas. They’d also like control of the finances and the chancery offices so that they can make all the appointments.

The ‘reformers’ (their term) have struggled to find the necessary Church authority to back up their woollier plans. They can’t exactly point to the Gospels, or sacred Tradition, or the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

So when in doubt, they call upon an entity I’m going to call ‘Pope Francis’ in inverted commas.

This ‘Pope Francis’ isn’t the real, slightly grouchy, Argentinian Jesuit. He’s more like a cuddly sock puppet, or a cardboard cutout.

Or even a magic word – whenever you want the Church to go down a rabbit hole, you wave your hands and cry ‘Pope Francis!’ and hey presto! there you are.

I’ve read all the formal teachings of Pope Francis ever since he was elected Pope. He’s a shameless conservative in most areas.

He’s got very marked views on the importance of sticking to the rubrics in the liturgy, for example (Desiderio Desideravi, 2022). In fact, he says that the clergy should stop trying to be the centre of attention.

He’s not in favour of lay preaching and thinks instead that priests should work on their homiletics (Evangelii Gaudium, 2013).

He’s written that abortion destroys a human life. He’s also written that gender reassignment surgery comes from a dangerous ideology that denies true human identity (Amoris Laetitia, 2016).

He’s just updated the Code of Canon Law to impose penalties on anyone trying to ordain a woman. He’s also ensured that the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith won’t be blessing same-sex unions any time soon.

He’s written sharply to the Church in Germany to pull its head in, as it goes cantering away from Rome on its little rainbow synodal legs.

This ‘Pope Francis’ isn’t the real, slightly grouchy, Argentinian Jesuit. He’s more like a cuddly sock puppet, or a cardboard cutout.

So where did “Pope Francis” the cardboard cutout come from? You will find his origins in the tiny, unhistorical world view of the average Australian Catholic ‘reformer’.

It goes like this: Vatican II heralded a new dawn. It restored the original Church to us after 1,900 years of darkness, superstition, and ignorance.

Jesus definitely wanted us to have [name your favourite non-Catholic hobby horse]. But we keep being thwarted by old-school popes and forces of reaction.

No wonder people have been deserting our churches! If only we had [name your favourite non-Catholic hobby horse again], the tide would reverse. We’d be relevant and socially acceptable, instead of having to be different from other people. Being a Christian was never meant to be this hard.

But thankfully now we have ‘Pope Francis’! He is Vatican II in human form! He wants exactly what we want – [and again, add in your favourite non-Catholic hobby horse], and plenty of it!

This kind of magical thinking would be cute in a slightly dumb teenager. It’s alarming to find it in educated people who are old enough to be my parents.

I suspect none of the ‘reformers’ has ever cracked open a single document of Vatican II. That would spoil everything. Much better to hang on to muddled ideas about condoms and world peace and para-liturgies with little piles of dirt.

I also suspect that if they’ve ever read anything written by the real Pope Francis, it’s Laudato Si’, and that’s it. Everything else comes to them pre-chewed by overseas left-leaning journals.

The cult of Pope-love is a risky business, especially when you’re in love with an imaginary Pope. Appeal to a figment of your imagination – a made-up person who will not be Pope forever – is not authority.

The real Pope Francis is destined to disappoint our ‘reformers.’