Is the Pope Catholic?

That question used to be rhetorical and used to signify a definite and emphatic yes to any statement.  In 2023, however, it is less sure — particularly in light of one Catholic cleric who aired his dissenting opinion.

Since the pandemic, the world has taken a turn toward moral lunacy, while the usual spiritual guardians are silent in their outrage. The idea that this medical hoax shuttered churches caused many to suspect a sinister underlying force. More and more Catholic clergy are voicing publicly their concerns about the direction of Pope Francis's papacy in videos and podcasts.

As a Catholic myself, my attitude toward Pope Francis has been to give him the benefit of the doubt in his press appearances because most Jesuits, at least for the last century or so, have leaned toward a worldlier liberal POV rather than a purely spiritual one. The Italian media interviews have always been suspect because of their leftish reporters who distort whatever comes out of Pope Francis's mouth.  

But despite my twelve years of Catholic education, I am not so sure lately about what’s happening with this papacy. More and more talk on the airwaves mentions the word "schism." Even pundit Ben Shapiro, who is Jewish, voices his concern.

I watched a YouTube video that was filmed this month by Father James Altman, a priest from Holy Cross Parish in La Crosse, Wisconsin.  It has gone viral because Father Altman has dared to state that Pope Francis is not a valid Catholic and thus not the pope.

In his video, Fr. Altman reads from the Council of Trent, which details certain mortal sins that incur automatic excommunication for any Catholic who commits them.

In his video, Fr. Altman lists many recent statements and actions that Pope Francis has taken that disturb Fr. Altman considerably. He refers to Francis only as Jorge Bergoglio.

Is Fr. Altman right? Is "Bergoglio" no longer the pope?

After some research, I’ve discovered innumerable responses from those with theological expertise that mitigate several of Fr. Altman's charges. But many supportive videos have also been broadcast on YouTube and Catholic webzines.

This division can serve as a microcosm for the wider division plaguing the Catholic Church.

For example, a 2019 Pew Research survey shows that many Catholics do not believe in the Real Presence in the Eucharist — that is, that the priest, apostolically ordained, changes the bread and wine presented to him in the Mass into the body and blood of Jesus Christ. They believe it to be a symbolic ritual, as do Protestants. I suggest they take a look on YouTube at the many Eucharistic miracles through the centuries that show the host being transformed into flesh. This phenomenon has occurred since at least A.D. 700. In each case where these things have been documented, the flesh has the same blood type — AB — and has been determined to be a part of heart muscle. The blood found on the Shroud of Turin is also type AB.  Believe it or not.

What has disturbed so many clergy about Pope Francis is that he seems to be lax in following the precepts laid down by prior Church councils, including the Council of Trent. For instance, Trent confirmed that one must be in a state of grace before receiving Communion. Pope Francis, however, has presided over Masses where known clear and unrepentant supporters of abortion, like Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden, received Communion. He has also welcomed audiences with same-sex couples and others clearly flaunting an immoral lifestyle. The pontiff seems to believe he is following Christ’s image of tolerance, but we have scant evidence that he is echoing to these people what Christ said to the woman caught in adultery after showing her mercy: "Go and sin no more."

Social media are abuzz with the prospect of a schism in the Church, and one can search endlessly for the different points on view.  

However, one must note that Pope Francis, or "Jorge Bergoglio," has become a polarizing figure. Take for example his recent visit to communist China where he advised Chinese Catholics to "be truly Christians and good citizens." What?

His selections of new cardinals also have a more progressive stance on the Church than the conservative influence fostered by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI.  Over 70% of the members of the College of Cardinals were installed by Pope Francis and will be responsible for choosing the next pope.

The most dangerous aspect of this entire controversy is that those Catholic clergy who have aired objections to the pope’s pronouncements — whether it is Fr. Altman, who insists that Francis is not the pope, or Bishop Joseph Strickland, who publicly "rejected" Francis's "program of undermining the Deposit of Faith" — have been silenced, suspended, and even forced to resign by their superiors. Pray for them.

The Catholic Church has had very bad, even evil popes, but none has ever had the power to change the core message of Christ or the dogma in place for over 2,000 years.  God willing, the Holy Spirit is still in charge.

Photo credit: YouTube screengrab (cropped)

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