Was Francis not paying attention?
“We never had it so good”, said the Bishop of Rome verbatim to assembled religious.
Let us put these words in the proper historical frame.
Admittedly, the Church is faring well in Africa and Asia. Amidst violent intolerance and persecution of various kind, the Church – even the weak, mediocre Church of post V II times – is certainly advancing at a notable pace. I cannot say how orthodox the new converts and the local faithful are, but it is fair to assume on average they take Christianity far more seriously than their European counterparts. In the US the situation is certainly better than in Europe, but clearly nothing to write home about. The situation of Catholicism in South America is too well-known to waste time describing it.
Directing our attention to what I think can fairly be called the historical heartland, Europe, we note the following:
Mass attendance has greatly sunk, stabilising now at a dismally low level. The average age of the churchgoers is not encouraging at all.
Catholicism has lost its grip on Southern Europe. In the last fifty years alone abortion laws have been introduced almost everywhere, divorce has been established, sodomy laws have been abolished, and Catholicism as State Religion has disappeared. A similar, often more brutal process of de-Christianisation has taken place in those countries already weakened by Protestantism.
The crisis of vocation has led to a veritable exodus from the priesthood, and to the almost total stop of new ordinations in the “mainstream” orders. Again, the situation has stabilised in the West at a low level, and there are justifiable questions marks concerning the average quality of the vocations, let alone the quality of the instruction.
Catholicism is not taught anymore. Most baptised people couldn't point out to what it is to be a Christian, and would be unable to notice a substantial difference – much less, to say in detail in what it consists – between them and their, say, Chinese and Indian non-christian friends. A vague and undetermined good-ism is their religion, and if pressed they wouldn't be able to define Christianity in any other way than with nonsensical platitudes like “do no harm” and “do not judge”.
We see the consequences of this every day. Catholic instruction in continuous decline, Catholic values also in retreat, abominations called “alternative lifestyles”, sodomites mysteriously supposed to be “happy people”, and a genocide of unborn babies as daily, almost unnoticed occurrence.
All over the West, including the periphery (South America), either Christianity has all but been reduced to irrelevance (say: the Nordic countries), or is on its way to irrelevance – like in Great Britain -, or it is obviously and rapidly eroding in its core traits (Germany, France, even Italy), or in addition to the usual problems is being strongly challenged by Protestant communities, who make massive inroads among those who still take Christianity seriously (think of Brazil).
Francis spoke to an Italian audience; an audience of religious who must perforce have this erosion of Catholic values in front of their eyes every day. There is no chance Francis would, or could, just ignore their situation speaking of the Church with them. Nor did he, as he could have done, point out to the successes of the Church in some parts of the planet, whilst obviously mentioning the great difficulties in traditional Catholic territory.
No, Francis did not do it. His enthusiasm is unqualified. It is not even the fruit of hopeful optimism, the expectation of a turnaround to come. It is the celebration of the situation as it is now.
Now let us reflect on his words in the light of what we have learnt of this man in these last six months. Is he so blind, or so utterly gaga, that he cannot see the huge societal changes that have completely ravaged traditionally Christian – and Catholic – societies in his own lifetime? Has he forgotten the time when abortion was the preserve of Nazi Germany and Communist countries, divorce a taboo in all Catholic ones, sodomy universally considered an abomination akin to pedophilia and incest, the churches full, and a strong Christian spirit at the root of all Western societies, even those prevalently Protestant?
Can you believe that? I cannot. Truly, I cannot.
My reading of Pope Francis' words is a different one. His religion is not made of rigid defence of Catholic values, evangelisation, Catholicism as State Religion – demolished by the Vatican itself, by the way -, abortion as murder, sodomy as abomination, mass attendance as obligation, & Co.
His religion is made of inclusiveness, tolerance, and dialogue. He clearly believes that only the very worst – if any – go to hell. Conversion to Catholicism is not important to him. Not even conversion to Christianity, in fact, is, though no doubt he seems to believe it would add a lot of “joy” to the life of people now discovering they can't fornicate and abort at pleasure anymore (which is true in the ultimate sense, but not in the sense in which “joy” would be understood by the recipients of the message). He is fully unconcerned about the crisis of vocations; so much so, that when he sees empty seminaries and convents he thinks not how to fill them with seminarians and religious again, but how many people could be put there.
He is also fully unconcerned that the country with the biggest number of Catholics on the planet is about to introduce abortion; so much so, that he travels there and doesn't make of it I do not say the only theme of his visit – which would have been utterly justified – but not even a secondary one. He is fully unconcerned about sodomites in his entourage, and even allows himself arrogant jokes of extremely questionable taste about this alleged gay lobby members not having their own ID; but he is “concerned” when the faithful… count their rosaries; the rosaries they pray for him.
His respect for the laws of the Church is well seen at the liturgical abuse he committed himself on Maundy Thursday – yes, it's a liturgical abuse even if the Pope commits it; a Pope can change the rules, not ignore them ad libitum – and his understanding of religious reverence is also well seen at the football shirt and beach ball he left at the altar of the Blessed Virgin in Santa Maria Maggiore. As to his liturgical views, the Pinocchio Mass tells you everything you need to know. From one who authors a book together with a Jewish buddy of his who supports so-called same-sex marriage, frankly it would have been difficult to get much better. From his Lex Credendi you can clearly imagine his Lex Orandi, even without the YouTube videos.
This is Francis' Lex Credendi, then; and at this points, the pieces fall into place.
A person thinking in this way must, in fact, think that Church never had it so good. Never have there been so many “non-judgemental” Catholics around. Never have there been so few conservative “Pelagians”. Never have so little rosaries been prayed, much less counted. Never has the fake parody Francis smuggles for Catholicism been so vastly followed. Never has Catholicism been so “inclusive”, uninterested in evangelisation, indifferent to the murder of countless babies, blind to perversion, accepting of every behaviour under the sun, not fearful of hell, forgetful of the commandments, & Co, & Co.
Truly, Francis' fantasy church never had it so good.