THERE is a phrase in the Catechism that is, I think, critical to repeat at this time.
The Pope, Bishop of Rome and Peter’s successor, “is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful.” —Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 882
The office of Peter is perpetual—that is the official teaching of the Catholic Church. That means, until the end of time, the office of Peter remains a visible, permanent sign and source of God’s judicial grace.
And that’s despite the fact that, yes, our history includes not only saints, but seeming scoundrels at the helm. Men like Pope Leo X who apparently sold indulgences to raise funds; or Stephen VI who, out of hatred, dragged his predecessor’s corpse through city streets; or Alexander VI who appointed family members to power while fathering four children. Then there is Benedict IX who actually sold his papacy; Clement V who imposed high taxes and openly gave land to supporters and family members; and Sergius III who ordered the death of anti-pope Christopher (and then took the papacy himself) only to, allegedly, father a child who would become Pope John XI. cf. “Top 10 Controversial Popes”, TIME, April 14th, 2010; time.com
So some might have reason to be concerned that the Church may in fact, at some point, be governed by a man who is not as holy as he should be. But what we have absolutely no reason to be concerned about is whether the actual office of Peter will come to an end—that is, that a legitimately elected pope will turn out to be an anti-pope who will redefine the Church’s deposit of faith, those matters of faith of morals.
No popes in the history of the Church have ever made ex cathedra errors. —Rev. Joseph Iannuzzi, theologian of the Gregorian Pontifical University, private letter
That’s because Jesus is the one building the house, not the popes. Were Revelation, at any point in history, able to be altered by His one true Church, then no one could ever be certain of the truth that sets us free if it is merely relative to the current generation. The goalposts cannot and will not move—that’s a divine promise.
…upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it… when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth… I am with you always, until the end of the age (Mt 16:18; Jn 16:13; Mt 28:20)
So why then are there so many today (and it is not few in number) who are nervous that Pope Francis is in fact a kind of anti-pope? Says one news report:
Conservatives, on the other hand, quickly recovered from the shock of Benedict’s surprising resignation to confront the shock of Francis’ enormous popularity. That popularity, they fear, is rooted in a view of Francis as a harbinger of change and comes at the expense of Benedict and the conservative tradition. —David Gibson, Feb. 25th, 2014, ReligionNews.com
In other words, the end of Catholicism, of Christianity as we know it.
There seems to be four reasons for this nervousness emerging. One is that readers tell me they are wary, given the liberal, heretical, and lack of solid teaching since Vatican II on the local level—a vacuum in orthodoxy that has led to numerous errors, confusion, and compromise of the faith. Second, Pope Francis has taken a pastoral direction to emphasize the kerygma, the first proclamation of the Good News, rather than the moral teachings at this period of history, leading some to erroneously assume he means the moral law no longer matters. Third, the signs of the times, the prophetic words of the popes, cf. Why Aren’t the Popes Shouting? and the apparitions of Our Lady have warned of coming times of confusion and apostasy—in a word, we are living in the “end times” (though not the end of the world). Fourth, this combination of fears is further propelled by far more enigmatic origins: the widespread papal and anti-papal prophecies from both Catholic and Protestant sources. One such prophecy being used against the current pontiff comes from no less than his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi.
THE PROPHECY OF ST. FRANCIS OF ASSISSI
In Works of the Seraphic Father by R. Washbourne (1882) that bears the mark of an imprimatur, a prophecy attributed to St. Francis is imparted to his spiritual children on his deathbed. For an academic look at questionable source of this prophecy, read “On the paternity of a medieval report of Francis of Assisi foretelling a non-canonically elected pope” by Solanus Benfatti. Briefly, his research finds the attribution of these words to St. Francis to be dubious at best. In his words,
…we have come to understand, on the whole, what the early and authentic source literature for Francis looks and feels like, and Francis’s alleged prophecy of a non-canonically elected pope has nothing in common with it, but is rather a reflection of a complex state of affairs about a century after the death of the Poor Man of Assisi. —Solanus Benfatti, October 7th, 2018; academia.edu
Nonetheless, for the sake of argument, I quote the relevant parts of the alleged prophecy here:
Act bravely, my Brethren; take courage, and trust in the Lord. The time is fast approaching in which there will be great trials and afflictions; perplexities and dissensions, both spiritual and temporal, will abound; the charity of many will grow cold, and the malice of the wicked will increase. The devils will have unusual power, the immaculate purity of our Order, and of others, will be so much obscured that there will be very few Christians who will obey the true Sovereign Pontiff and the Roman Catholic Church with loyal hearts and perfect charity. At the time of this tribulation a man, not canonically elected, will be raised to the Pontificate, who, by his cunning, will endeavour to draw many into error and death. Then scandals will be multiplied, our Order will be divided, and many others will be entirely destroyed, because they will consent to error instead of opposing it. There will be such diversity of opinions and schisms among the people, the religious and the clergy, that, except those days were shortened, according to the words of the Gospel, even the elect would be led into error, were they not specially guided, amid such great confusion, by the immense mercy of God… Those who preserve their fervour and adhere to virtue with love and zeal for the truth, will suffer injuries and persecutions as rebels and schismatics; for their persecutors, urged on by the evil spirits, will say they are rendering a real service to God by destroying such pestilent men from the face of the earth… Sanctity of life will be held in derision even by those who outwardly profess it, for in those days Our Lord Jesus Christ will send them not a true Pastor, but a destroyer.—Ibid. p.250 (emphasis mine)
While some already felt this prophecy was fulfilled in the great schism, which desolated the Church after the election of Urban VI, cf. Works of the Seraphic Father by R. Washbourne; footnote, p. 250 it is understandably tempting not to apply it in some way to our times. In just the relatively brief period of the past 40-50 years, scandals have multiplied, religious orders have been obliterated, and there is such a diversity of opinion on basic moral law, Blessed John Paul II rightly lamented that “Vast sectors of society are confused about what is right and what is wrong.” cf. Cherry Creek State Park Homily, Denver, Colorado, 1993
It is during this time of moral chaos that St. Francis sees very few Christians ‘who will obey the true Sovereign Pontiff.’ He says ‘true,’ which implies that there would be an “untrue” pope, which is precisely what he goes on to prophesy:
At the time of this tribulation a man, not canonically elected, will be raised to the Pontificate, who, by his cunning, will endeavour to draw many into error and death.
It is this man whom St. Francis is referring to when he says, ‘…in those days, Our Lord Jesus Christ will send them not a true Pastor, but a destroyer.’ Yes, in the Old Testament, God often sent the Israelites an immoral or oppressive leader in order to chastise His people when they went astray.
Could this be Pope Francis in the saint’s prophecy? Simply, no. The reason is that he was canonically elected. He is not an anti-pope. This was acknowledged by no less than the former head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith who is one of the greatest theologians in modern times, his predecessor, Benedict XVI. And not a single Cardinal, particularly those more renowned faithful and holy sons of the Church, has stepped forward to say that something incongruous took place in the Conclave or in Benedict’s resignation.
There is absolutely no doubt regarding the validity of my resignation from the Petrine ministry. The only condition for the validity of my resignation is the complete freedom of my decision. Speculations regarding its validity are simply absurd… [My] last and final job [is] to support [Pope Francis’] pontificate with prayer. —POPE EMERITUS BENEDICT XVI, Vatican City, Feb. 26th, 2014; Zenit.org
Furthermore, in the ordinary Magisterium, Pope Francis has upheld the Church’s moral teaching without, to use his own words, “obsessing” over it. Far from a destroyer, he has been building bridges through his own unique pastoral style.
While the Church is not unfamiliar with more than one pope vying for power in her sometimes troubled past, today’s situation truly is unique: a pope who has peacefully resigned his pontificate to another, who in turn, has not missed a beat in upholding the unbroken tradition of the Church while at the same time attracting souls to the love and mercy of Christ.
The problem seems to lie in an unrestrained speculation about the “end times.” I have received, for example, many letters asking me what I think about St. Malachy’s prophecy on his list of popes, or St. Catherine Emmerich’s vision of “two popes”, or the Garabandal seers apparition of the remaining popes, etc….. Perhaps the best answer at this point is the one St. Hannibal Maria di Francia, spiritual director to the Servant of God Luisa Picarretta, gave:
Being taught by the teachings of several mystics, I have always deemed that the teachings and locutions of even holy persons, especially women, may contain deceptions. Poulain attributes errors even to saints the Church venerates on the altars. How many contradictions we see between Saint Brigitte, Mary of Agreda, Catherine Emmerich, etc. We cannot consider the revelations and the locutions as words of Scripture. Some of them must be omitted, and others explained in a right, prudent meaning. —St. Hannibal Maria di Francia, letter to Bishop Liviero of Città di Castello, 1925 (emphasis mine)
He is saying, do not despise prophecy, but neither elevate it to absolute truth (including the prophetic words that I have personally shared here under spiritual direction and in obedience to what I feel the Lord has asked me to write.) But with all your heart, obey Christ! Obey those leaders cf. Heb. 13:17: “Obey your leaders and defer to them, for they keep watch over you and will have to give an account, that they may fulfill their task with joy and not with sorrow, for that would be of no advantage to you.“ whom He has appointed as shepherds over us: “Whoever listens to you, listens to me,” cf. Lk 10:16 He said to the twelve Apostles, including Judas who would betray Him and Peter who would deny Him.
Ironically, some of those who are crying foul over Pope Francis, that he will somehow create a schism, have themselves become a self-fulfilling prophecy by denying the infallibility of the Holy Father and withholding their assent to his magisterial authority. cf. adherents to the errors of “Maria Divine Mercy” come to mind, as well as sedevacanists and other schismatics… cf. Casualties of Confusion
Heresy is the obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed with divine and catholic faith, or it is likewise an obstinate doubt concerning the same; apostasy is the total repudiation of the Christian faith; schism is the refusal of submission to the Roman Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him. —Catechism of the Catholic Faith, n. 2089
How much time is wasted raking over prophecies, combing the Pope’s past, watching his every misstep so as to quickly label him a “modernist”, “Freemason” or “Marxist” or “heretic” rather than getting on with the urgent work of evangelization and building authentic unity. It is sometimes…
…the self-absorbed promethean neopelagianism of those who ultimately trust only in their own powers and feel superior to others because they observe certain rules or remain intransigently faithful to a particular Catholic style from the past. A supposed soundness of doctrine or discipline leads instead to a narcissistic and authoritarian elitism, whereby instead of evangelizing, one analyzes and classifies others, and instead of opening the door to grace, one exhausts his or her energies in inspecting and verifying. In neither case is one really concerned about Jesus Christ or others. —POPE FRANCIS, Evangelii Gaudium, n. 94
It was St. Ambrose who said, “Where Peter is, there is the Church.” That was in 397. A.D. — before there was an official bible. Christians, from the first homily of Peter after Pentecost, have been strengthened in their faith and fed from the office of Peter. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. HE WILL NOT BETRAY HIS CHURCH, HIS BRIDE, HIS MYSTICAL BOD Y. It is time for Catholics to put their faith again in Our Lord, let go of dangerous speculation, and pray for their priests, bishops, and Pope instead of slandering them, which I find grievous. And if any of our clergy commit grave sin—including the Holy Father—it is not for us to throw them overboard, but in a spirit of filial love…
…correct that one in a gentle spirit, looking to yourself, so that you also may not be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so you will fulfill the law of Christ. (Gal 6:1-2)
In this way, we help our brothers in the Lord whose ministry brings us Jesus in the Sacraments, and at the same time, witness to the world that we are Christ’s disciples by our love for one another.
Christ is the center, not the Successor of Peter. Christ is the reference point at the heart of the Church, without Him, Peter and the Church would not exist. The Holy Spirit inspired the events of the past days. It was he who inspired the decision of Benedict XVI for the good of the Church. It was he who inspired the choice of the cardinals. —POPE FRANCIS, March 16th, meeting with the press
The pope isn’t an absolute sovereign, whose thoughts and desires are law. On the contrary, the ministry of the pope is the guarantor of the obedience toward Christ and his word. —POPE BENEDICT XVI, Homily of May 8, 2005; San Diego Union-Tribune
To receive Mark’s daily Mass reflections, The Now Word,
click on the banner below to subscribe.
Your email will not be shared with anyone.
Spiritual Food for Thought is a full-time apostolate.
Thanks for your support!
|↑1||cf. “Top 10 Controversial Popes”, TIME, April 14th, 2010; time.com|
|↑2||cf. Why Aren’t the Popes Shouting?|
|↑3||cf. Works of the Seraphic Father by R. Washbourne; footnote, p. 250|
|↑4||cf. Cherry Creek State Park Homily, Denver, Colorado, 1993|
|↑5||cf. Heb. 13:17: “Obey your leaders and defer to them, for they keep watch over you and will have to give an account, that they may fulfill their task with joy and not with sorrow, for that would be of no advantage to you.“|
|↑6||cf. Lk 10:16|
|↑7||cf. adherents to the errors of “Maria Divine Mercy” come to mind, as well as sedevacanists and other schismatics… cf. Casualties of Confusion|