Sober and sobering views of the “Francis Effect”

I point the readership to two must-read pieces.

First, in of all places the New York Times (aka Hell’s Bible), an op-ed by Matthew Schmitz of First Things.  “Has Pope Francis Failed?”

Next, Carl Olson’s opinion piece at Catholic World Report, which picks up where Schmitz left off.  “Francis has built his popularity at the expense of the church he leads.”

Read both carefully.



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  1. anilwang says:

    For me, both are essentially correct and it’s also one reason why I am confident that the next Pope will be someone who will have a strong mandate to clarify what has been made ambiguous and fix what is broken. The longer that Pope Francis is pope, the greater the chance that we will get a strong, clear, and orthodox Pope. My only worry is that those put in charge of the next conclave will attempt to do what they did in the last synod, namely decide on the next Pope before the conclave and pretend that this pre-selected Pope was actually elected by the cardinals. Fortunately, these manipulators have already shown their hand, so if some funny does business happen during the election there will be quite literally hell to pay.

    But regardless, it’s up to us to help preserve and suffer for the faith and to do what we can to encourage our priests and bishops to stand up for the faith. This are hostile times within and without the Church and our shepherds need all the encouragement they can get.

  2. cwillia1 says:

    There is not much to add to those two articles. We are paying the price for relying on an exaggerated understanding of the papacy to keep the church orthodox and for the celebrity personality cult that has grown up around the popes of the last century.

  3. Adorista says:

    My sense from talking to Catholics who who are a little on the liberal side, but still involved with their parishes, is that Francis was a welcome change. They liked what they thought was a refreshing, more merciful approach. Some other Catholics, who are not liberal, like him because of his example of outreach to the poor. He inspired them to try a little harder at the corporal works of mercy. They do worry about the dilution of orthodoxy. But all these folks were already going to Mass and serving the church, and as the article points out, we need people to start coming back. I wonder if they will start to see the Pope as a world religious leader kind of like the Dalai Lama, that is, a good guy who says inspiring things, but there’s no way most of us are going to become Tibetan Buddhist.

  4. Polycarpio says:

    Religions are waning. If you look at the patterns around the world, and religion in the West, the trendlines are universally downward. It strikes me as a particularly Catholic bias, to blame other Catholics or to think that it’s something or someone within the Church that is causing it when the pattern is not exclusive to Catholicism. What is even more baffling is that we are the largest religion. Over one billion Catholics, and instead of banding together, we gravitate away from each other. Francis is trying to rally the Church, and to put a more friendly façade on ye olde storefront, but instead of cheering him, some Catholics are jeering. I can only scratch my head, especially when there are some hopeful signs in outside perceptions of the Church, and with the vast majority of Catholics supporting the pope.

  5. JARay says:

    I enjoy reading a blog called Denzinger-Bergoglio, which is written by a group of priests. They have been making comments similar to those expressed above by Matthew Schmitz and Carl Olsen.

  6. wolfeken says:

    Polycarpio wrote: “Francis is trying to rally the Church, and to put a more friendly façade on ye olde storefront, but instead of cheering him, some Catholics are jeering.”

    Um, have you studied any Catholic history from the 1960s and 1970s? The happy-clappy experiment you seemingly adore was not only tried to the Nth degree, but failed miserably.

    The point is the same failed experiments from back then have been pushed again by Francis over the last three years and, news flash, they’re not working. Again.

  7. frival says:

    I believe the point both authors are making is that so many writers and pundits talked early in this Pontificate about the Francis Effect, as if because of this newfound mercy we would see people returning to the pews in great numbers, and those predictions simply aren’t coming true. People that left because of how “mean” JPII or Benedict were aren’t coming back because Pope Francis is so much nicer. They’ve moved on in their lives, by and large, and don’t find a compelling reason to return. The problem, dear Watson, is that they never really knew Christ or His Church and so they left over a trifle (albeit perhaps a painful trifle for some) without ever looking at the treasure they left behind.

    It takes more than a hearty smile, folksy bonhomie, and new terminology around old theology to get people to take the look back at what they thought was no longer necessary. It requires, to start, Truth, Goodness, and Beauty – only those can touch the core of the human heart.

  8. Kathleen10 says:

    I’m going to comment before I read the articles, because I can’t wait to agree with wolfeken.
    There seems to be three camps.
    One camp loves the authentic Roman Catholic faith passed down for 2000 years, the rites, the traditions. This Old Guard is confused about what to do, but fierce about guarding the authentic faith, and is horrified by what is going on.
    One camp loves the New Catholic-Universal church which is an amalgam of warmed over 60’s/70’s “reforms” and novelties/old heresies/new heresies/ and distorted virtues and values. They see PF as “refreshing”.
    One camp has no idea anything has changed. (I kind of envy those people.)

  9. jaykay says:

    Adorista says: “They liked what they thought was a refreshing, more merciful approach”.

    Ummm,I think “they thought” says it all there. Yes, we all of course remember those 25 awful years of the rigorous, merciless traditionalist John Paul 2, and the even worse 7-plus of the heartless quasi-fascist Benedict, as opposed to the “more merciful” Francis, presumably.

    That, of course, would be the “more merciful” Francis who excoriates abortion and “gay marriage”, and venerates Our Lady, exactly as his pre- decessors did.

    But then, that’s liberals for yah: utterly led astray by the MSM “maskirovka”, which seeks to paint the HF as one of their own, despite loads of evidence to the contrary, in pursuit of their own divide and rule agenda.

    Liberals: always good for a chuckle, bless them.

  10. Kathleen10 says:

    sorry for two posts, but I read the articles.
    I have no idea the orientation of the writers, progressives versus traditionalists, but clearly both these men see the problem with this papacy and identify it. Kudos to them both. As the church continues to empty and we see the fallout from this devastating papacy we pray more and more people comprehend and begin to openly identify the reality as well. It’s the first step.

  11. thomas tucker says:

    I think the number of Catholics going to church would be decreasing no matter who is Pope. The attraction of institutional religion is going down and will keep going down as newer generations increasingly turn to Moral Therapeutic Deism as their religon of choice. I remain quite puzzled by this Pope who seems so traditional in some respects, and so avant-garde in others. The net effect seems to be one of confusion. And I continue to wonder, as I always have, how much analysis the Cardinals do when deciding whom to vote for in Conclave. Do they look into their views and backgorunds of their peers before congregating in Rome? I’ve always wished I had a Cardinal as a good freind so I could ask that question.

  12. 21stCentury Anglican says:

    As an Anglican, I can tell you that we’ve seen this movie before and it never ends well. I pray for the pope regularly, and I hope that the next one is firmly orthodox (and knows how to communicate that orthodoxy.)

  13. tcreek says:

    I have several non churchgoing “catholic” friends that have high praise for Pope Francis and that are still non churchgoing. Francis is good for conscience cleansing.

  14. ChgoCatholic says:

    I pray you are correct about future outcomes!

  15. ChgoCatholic says:

    I read the Times piece yesterday and was hoping it would be featured here for discussion. Both pieces are indeed soberly written, and do not pull punches. My rhetorical reaction was, and remains: why would we be attracting people (especially younger) back to the Church, if it is insinuated that any of us can bend or break the rules, and it won’t ultimately matter?

    When most people look at God now, I sense they look at Him through the lens of man’s law. Enough loopholes render any law meaningless. When people get the impression that mere men can begin developing exceptions to God’s law, why would they feel the need to return to the flock?

    I know it is by the grace of God and in part the good example of some of my family elders that I remained with my faith long enough to bring my husband back into the fold and for us to begin taking our faith much more seriously. Meanwhile, we have family members twice our age who are rooting for Pope Francis, and don’t want to hear it when we remind them of all of their nieces, nephews, and our other peers who are now abandoning the Church (~85%!) because, quite frankly, the only Church they’ve ever known is the modern one, where mercy has become wholly divorced from sin, judgment, and the Truth. They want the feel good-ism that the world is selling; and, I fear, they perceive that the Pope is essentially green lighting that approach, suggesting God’s law is not absolute but can be bent to man’s will/feelings. In fact, I’m confident that if myself and my peers had been properly catechised and saw the Truth reinforced by ALL of the Church hierarchy, top to bottom, we might be in a different place right now. As it is, many no longer marry in the Church, nor baptize their children; of those who do, many are, like numerous of our parents’ generation, thrilled with the Pope for the very reason that his commentary seems to provide cover for many “popular” sins–gay “marriage,” birth control, etc. So they can have their cake and eat it too; even if that’s wholly false, and regardless of whether his commentary is not doctrinal/magisterial. They shunt that aside and hear what they want; or use that as an excuse why they shouldn’t question how off base his commentary sounds to any knowledgeable Catholic.

    While my husband and I with two very small children have not yet made it to an EF Mass, we hope to move in that direction. I imagine doing so would baffle the very same family members who spent the first decade or two (or three) of their lives knowing nothing but the EF…but I digress.

  16. ChgoCatholic says:

    I allude to a fourth camp in my longer comment below. If you’ll indulge me, I think this fourth group are the children of the Boomers, who leave the Church (or participate while being still ignorant of or at odds with a lot of Church teaching/doctrine), and “love” PF because his commentary suggests license to have their cake and eat it, too. “Finally, a Pope who gets it!” “Finally, a Pope who cares about little people!” Ok, great so you’ll rethink your position on xyz sin (and/or return to Church)? “Oh no, PF is great but the Church has to change abc teachings before I’ll return!” Sadly, I think PF has just reinforced the idea that everything is up for dialogue, debate, and ultimately, “reform.”

  17. KnightOfTruth says:

    I remember how everyone saw Francis as incredibly humble. My take is that he is not humble at all and that in my lifetime (60 years), Benedict has been the most humble. Benedict humbly wore red shoes… and dutifully tried to fill the shoes of the “Pope” every day. Francis needs to try to fill those shoes. It would help inform the kind of leadership he needs to provide.

  18. catholictrad says:

    Anybody remember “Johnny Taliban”? Despite young people’s penchant for rebellion and testing of limits, they desperately want solid ground to walk on. That solid ground is found in unchanging moral teaching and is the very definition of “conservative”. As in conserving and handing down the unpolluted Truth of God.
    Liberality, on the other hand, always stretches the truth. It finds 60+ “genders” beyond the two given by our Creator. It attempts to placate Justice without the requisite repentance. It is this nasty little worm in the apple that spouts on about “Catholic guilt” as though it were a bad thing. We should pray for the tears of remorse for offending our God, not look for ways to avoid giving up the sin.

    I think Francis could learn much from the exile:
    “The Church must be clear on her identity. If, for ‘fundamentalist’ one means someone who insists on the fundamentals, I’m a fundamentalist. As a priest, I don’t teach for myself and I don’t act for myself. I belong to Christ. I act in his person. I teach only what He teaches in His Church, because this teaching will save souls.”

    Raymond Cardinal Burke, 2015

  19. juergensen says:

    There has been a definitive Francis Effect right here on my computer. Fewer visits to Catholic news sites. Too depressing.

  20. The Masked Chicken says:

    Dear Thomas Tucker,

    You wrote:

    “I think the number of Catholics going to church would be decreasing no matter who is Pope. The attraction of institutional religion is going down and will keep going down as newer generations increasingly turn to Moral Therapeutic Deism as their religon of choice.”

    I’m just letting you know that I’m going to steal this term. I will, of course, cite you.

    The Chicken

  21. anilwang says:

    thomas tucker says: I think the number of Catholics going to church would be decreasing no matter who is Pope.

    I’d have to disagree. Blaming it on people desiring Moral Therapeutic Deism as their religion of choice, IMO, misunderstands the issue. The problem is, the laity have been fed junk-food for a few generations so all they expect now is junk food. Moral Therapeutic Deism is just as good as any other spam substitute.

    What we need now is a return to non-timid Catholicism. As Pope Benedict XVI indicated, we need to give up on the Balthasarian hopeful universalism and return to the doctrine that the souls outside the visible boundary of the Church are really in danger. We live in shark infested waters. Just because a person hanging onto a plank that came from the Barque of Peter might reach the shores of salvation, doesn’t mean that their chances are good or that they are not in danger of being devoured by the enemy. Christ gave us the sacraments for a reason.

    We need to return to a solid liturgy that truly honors God. We need to return to a solid moral theology that priests are unashamed of proclaiming, including the opposition of contraception. We need to return to fasting and sacrifices and being willing to be martyred, because if things don’t change, we will be. We need to preach the Cross and the Church needs to reclaim the language of excommunication.

    All this can be done by a Pope and all would help to return the Church to force. The key thing is, that it’s a full time job so the Pope would necessarily need to delegate globe trotting to a Legate and forgo the lime light.

  22. mbutton says:

    Can these writers please dispense with the word “perplexing”? There is nothing perplexing about it.

    The Holy Father, like large swaths of the modern world, hold heretical tendencies in their theology.

  23. JTH says:

    I once thought the purpose of Pope Francis’ papacy was to bring wayward Catholics back to the Church. To make a determination after only three years may not be fair but it looks to me there are about the same number of people at Mass as before. Only God really knows the point of it all. Hopefully God will select Cardinal Sarah as the next pope. Catholics need a no-nonsense pope to prepare the faithful for the coming difficulties.

  24. thomas tucker says:

    @Masked Chicken: Don’t attribute it to me. I first saw it while reading Rod Dreher and apparently the term (Moralistic Therapeutic Deism) was introduced by sociologist Christian Smith in a book describing the reiligious views of contemporary teenagers. I thik it can now be used to describe the religion of many adults as well.

  25. Filipino Catholic says:

    @mbutton Some would go even further and say the Pope is a heretic, but according to Aquinas he is not a heretic until he’s found to be obstinate (or “pertinacious”) in his error.

  26. comedyeye says:

    Recently my bishop answered questions from young people in the diocese. When someone
    asked a question that, at its root, questioned the clarity of Pope Francis, the bishop made a neutral statement, admitted he was not answering the question, and moved on. Clearly a trickle down that exemplifies the true “Francis effect”.

  27. hwriggles4 says:

    A few months ago, one of the secular newspapers (I think it was a northeast paper like the Boston Globe) ran an article about Catholics, which covered the closing of a parish with a popular priest, and parishioners protesting the closing with the diocese. The article covered a few observations as well:

    1. Have vocations gone up with Pope Francis as the Bishop of Rome? No.
    2. Has Mass attendance among Catholics increased since Pope Francis began his pontificate? No.
    3. Has any doctrine changed? No.

    I remember when Pope Francis visited the United States last year (September 2015) , and addressed congress. My U.S. Senator (who is not Catholic) was on the news and said how surprised quite a few “Catholic congressional members” were when Pope Francis was upholding religious freedom. Maybe the mainstream media is getting the message slowly, and will tone down its infatuation with Pope Francis.

  28. boxerpaws63 says:

    “Benedict has been the most humble.” Yes. :)

  29. amsjj1002 says:

    I’m with you regarding Grandpapa Benedict, KnightOfTruth. So humble and yet so brilliant. He reminds me of my patron, Blessed John Henry Newman. I miss him.

  30. tjb says:

    Re. Schmitz’s piece, which was great, I don’t really understand the line: “We probably won’t have a full measure of any Francis effect until the church is run by bishops appointed by Francis and priests who adopt his pastoral approach”

    I’m not sure why he thinks that the bishops and priests are going to adopt Francis’ pastoral approach… I am two years away from ordination and believe my style will be decidedly more B-XVI than Francis, in the sense that I believe it more effective to revive more sacred worship and teach the faith plainly and clearly. I’m frankly unaware of any seminarians who aspire to adopt a more vague or muddled language when teaching the faith.
    As far as Bishops, I really don’t see much change from the papacy of Benedict… yes I know about Chicago, but overall I think they have been similar to the Benedictine appointments, which shouldn’t be overly surprising when you consider that the same Cardinal is still in charge of them.
    I just haven’t seen a movement of either bishops or priests rushing to adopt Francis’ style, so I don’t anticipate some future date when the “Francis effect” will finally kick in. Perhaps the end of his papacy will simply be the end of his influence…

  31. Cavaliere says:

    I wonder if they will start to see the Pope as a world religious leader kind of like the Dalai Lama, that is, a good guy who says inspiring things.

    Why not, that’s all they see Jesus as being.

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