Preface by prof. Rest
Popes have been a problem in the past: some were grossly immoral, others were warlords, others tried hard politics with the professionals and lost in humiliating ways (like Pius XI with Hitler and Paul VI with the Hungarian Communists on the fate of heroic Cardinal Mindszenty). But no previous pope has been accused of a concerted attempt to subvert traditional Catholic teachings. This is a new feature, specific to the contemporary scene. And although this is not the place to explain in detail how the Catholic world in the West has stumbled into such a serious crisis, the reader of this book will discover that Don Tullio Rotondo records and explains an important part of the matter with clarity and precision; therefore, it is enough just to outline the broader context.
Over the course of many decades, but especially after the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church in the West seems to be divided into three groups, to the first of which belong the 'traditionalists' of various shades, not entirely unanimous, especially on liturgical questions, but all determined to uphold the fundamental teachings of the Church in faith and morals. The second group, often nicknamed "liberals", is made up of those who believe that the "updating" of the Church attempted in the often naive and unclear documents - because they are guided by commissions and compromises - of Vatican II is still seriously incomplete and that the Church must adopt much larger pieces of the ideology of the modern or postmodern world, especially but not exclusively of sexual ethics. This desire is often accompanied by a more or less open rejection of transcendentalism in favor of an eco-pantheism: as well as by a marked indifference towards the traditional claim of the Church of an ultimate vision of the truth with which other partial truths can be verified. Such "liberal" beliefs indicate a fundamental hesitation about the divinity of Christ and the resurrection and in this they follow in the footsteps of much of contemporary Protestantism.
The third and largest group of Church members is made up of "tribal" Catholics, often from traditionally Catholic communities and families who practice out of habit, attend Mass more or less frequently, not likely to worry too much about Catholic morality, committed to uncritically - and encouraged to remain so by a prevailing uncertainty about the meaning of Vatican I's teaching on papal infallibility - both out of loyalty to the episcopate and because they identify Catholic truth with the teachings or insinuations of every reigning Pope: in fact confusing the Pope with the Church and assuming that most bishops will follow this principle.
The conclusion of the dispute between the first and second of our three groups will probably depend in large part on the eventual behavior of the "tribalists". Because after the more or less traditional pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI we are now faced with the result of the irresponsible election (orchestrated somewhat non-canonically but still valid) of Jorge Bergoglio as Francis I. His pontificate Francis presented himself not as the head of the whole Church, nor as the bishop whose special role is to maintain the Church's time-honored teachings and to review proposals for doctrinal development in the light of the previous tradition, but at the head of a faction determined to change Catholic doctrine by direct diktat from above: with proposals, that is, launched in the hope of co-opting the majority of "tribalists" accustomed to obeying whatever instructions the Vatican gives them, even if they ease the tension between the teaching of the Church and the postmodern Zeitgeist (spirit of the time). It is important to emphasize that among these "tribalists" will be numbered many powerful "Catholic" politicians and commentators whose influence would diminish if they too openly - or at all - followed outdated Catholic moral beliefs and tried to apply them in contemporary social and political life.
Francis does not limit his subversive operations to the diktat. Indeed, his more normal approach to him is a calculated ambiguity, accompanied by a reluctance to explain whether or not he is trying to change the teaching of the Church on the sly. The most obvious example of this was his refusal to answer, or even to meet, the four cardinals who presented him with dubia - hesitations, questions - about his apparent moral teachings, especially in Amoris Laetitia. Indeed, in organizing and formulating that text, he and his courtiers had no qualms about using obvious deceptions with words and deeds, such as the "manipulation" of the first Synod on the family (well documented by Edward Pentin) and the subsequent pre- packaging and inaccurate packaging of his decisions.
Francis and his partisans hope that the vast majority of "tribalists" will accept (perhaps with relief) whatever the Church decides now teaches, indeed they will read his ambiguous statements and behaviors as a green light for further innovations made with discernment. In this he has been remarkably successful; many also of those - not least among the bishops - who are troubled by the new preaching have shirked their responsibilities by saying to themselves and to others: “After all, he is the Pope”.
However, a small number of cardinals and bishops raised serious objections to recent papal proceedings, and a minority of lay people felt disgusted and betrayed by what has been done to their church, finding it difficult to accept that a man apparently hostile to traditional Catholicism is he was elected pope with such negligence, thus allowing him and his courtiers, many of his own Jesuit order, to embark on their subversive path. Some have wondered if he has been blackmailed or if he is trying to please his new financiers of the People's Republic of China (described by one of his episcopal acolytes as the one that creates the system closest to the social doctrine of the Catholic Church); others ask if he is an unbeliever (or perhaps simply an Aryan); others if he sees the future Church as the spiritual arm of the United Nations, with the Pope Minister of Religious Affairs.
Pope Francis, however, treats all these perplexed critics - indeed all conservative Catholics - with blatant contempt, comparing them to Herod and the like, while praising and welcoming abortionists, betraying the Catholic population of China and Hong Kong, and defending pedophile priests while insulting. their victims until pressures force them to give up.
Future historians will ponder these questions and perhaps one day the truth will emerge. As they try to clarify what really happened and why, they will need all the help they can get to navigate the maze of 'literature' of Pope Francis, his supporters and his opponents, and will benefit from the guidance of someone who has pondered long and hard on ecclesial ambiguities and is familiar with the vast volume of public domain material.
Since many of the problems of the current papacy have been brought to the clearest light of the day since the publication of Amoris Laetitia, it would obviously be helpful if a guide were published through the enormous controversies that exhortation generated. And such a guide has now been compiled - truly a magnum opus et arduum - by Don Tullio who in more than 1300 pages has collected the relevant documents and examined them in the light of a broad knowledge of Scripture, as of the Fathers and Doctors of the church. He is not surprising that I would not like to accept all the conclusions he proposes, although he has proved his general thesis beyond a reasonable doubt.
The historians of the Catholic Church in the twenty-first century will find her material a goldmine for their eventual determinations, while today's Catholics on the benches will find in her book an unparalleled resource as they try to unravel the web of arrogance, deceit, ambiguity and an insult that characterized what was proposed to us as theological renewal from top to bottom.
Emeritus Professor of Classics and Philosophy,
University of Toronto, FRSC.