More than three years into this bizarre pontificate, one thing has become clear to the informed objective observer: “Father Bergoglio,” as he is wont to call himself when undermining Catholic doctrine by telephone, is abusing the papal office like no other Pope before him in an attempt to pass off his own ideas as binding on the Church.
On and on he goes, telling us whatever he thinks as if he actually expects any believing Catholic to accept his notions as authentic Church teaching, including these:
- the admission to Holy Communion of people living in adultery in “certain cases”;
- the embrace of environmentalism, “global warming” hysteria and the United Nations “sustained development goals”;
- the absurd whitewash of Islam, the demand for unrestricted Muslim immigration and the outrageous claim of a moral equivalence between Islamic terrorists and Catholic “fundamentalists”;
- the approval of contraception to prevent transmission of the Zika virus;
- the condemnation of women who have multiple Caesarian sections as “irresponsible” mothers who tempt God and breed “like rabbits”;
- the claim that anyone who is baptized belongs to the same Church as Catholics;
- the reduction of the defined dogma of transubstantiation to an “interpretation” on the same level as the Lutheran heresy;
- the condemnation of the death penalty as per se immoral;
- the depiction of Mary as embittered over being “tricked” by God regarding her Son’s kingship;
- the depiction of Jesus as a prevaricator who only pretends to be angry with His disciples and a reckless youth who had to apologize to Mary and Joseph for his “little escapade” in the Synagogue while they were looking for him;
and so on and so forth—endlessly, day in and day out.
And now the latest ridiculous Novelty of the Week. Francis has decided there should be eight works of corporal mercy and eight works of spiritual mercy instead of the traditional seven. The new “eighth work of mercy,” both corporal and spiritual, would be “care for our common home,” meaning the environment. As Francis declared in his “Message for the Celebration of the World Day of Care for Creation,” quoting himself as the sole authority (as he so often does):
The Christian life involves the practice of the traditional seven corporal and seven spiritual works of mercy. “We usually think of the works of mercy individually and in relation to a specific initiative: hospitals for the sick, soup kitchens for the hungry, shelters for the homeless, schools for those to be educated, the confessional and spiritual direction for those needing counsel and forgiveness… But if we look at the works of mercy as a whole, we see that the object of mercy is human life itself and everything it embraces.”
Obviously “human life itself and everything it embraces” includes care for our common home. So let me propose a complement to the two traditional sets of seven: may the works of mercy also include care for our common home.
As a spiritual work of mercy, care for our common home calls for a “grateful contemplation of God’s world” (Laudato Si’, 214) which “allows us to discover in each thing a teaching which God wishes to hand on to us” (ibid., 85). As a corporal work of mercy, care for our common home requires “simple daily gestures which break with the logic of violence, exploitation and selfishness” and “makes itself felt in every action that seeks to build a better world” (ibid., 230-31).
To whom are we showing spiritual mercy when we engage in “grateful contemplation of God’s world”? No one, obviously. To characterize contemplating the created world of physical entities as a work of spiritual mercy is patent nonsense. The proposed new eighth work of corporal mercy is just as nonsensical: it is directed to no one in particular and fails to prescribe any particular corporal work.
Earlier in the document, however, Francis—again quoting himself—ludicrously proposes that in the process of “[e]xamining our consciences, repentance and confession to our Father who is rich in mercy” we must have “a firm purpose of amendment [his emphasis]” that “must translate into concrete ways of thinking and acting that are more respectful of creation” such as “avoiding the use of plastic and paper, reducing water consumption, separating refuse, cooking only what can reasonably be consumed, showing care for other living beings, using public transport or car-pooling, planting trees, turning off unnecessary lights, or any number of other practices” (Laudato Si’, 211).”
Evidently, Francis considers failure to adopt “green” practices a mortal sin requiring absolution and an amendment of life. This is in stark contrast to his view of people who, as even the new Catechism teaches, are living “in a situation of permanent and public adultery” in purported “second marriages” following divorce. Francis has been laboring incessantly to admit these wayward Catholics to Confession and Holy Communion without any firm purpose of amendment. Catholics who fail to care adequately for “our common home,” however, apparently cannot receive absolution, according to Francis, unless amend their lives by “going green.”
Just imagine if Catholics took this notion seriously. A confession according to the dictates of environmentalism would sound something like this:
Bless me Father, for I have sinned. It has been one month since my last Confession. I bought water in plastic bottles at least six times, and I used plastic forks and paper plates at the family barbecue last week. Once I used up a whole roll of paper towels cleaning up a big mess on the floor. I have thrown plastic and glass refuse into the regular garbage pail many times. Several times I left the water running while I was cleaning up the kitchen. I have been taking my car to the supermarket every week when I could have taken the bus. Once I left the lights on in the house when I went out for the evening. Last week I threw out some leftover lasagna. And I have never planted a tree.
The continuing embarrassment of this pontificate is now too much to bear even for leading commentators of the conservative Novus Ordo mainstream. To their credit, a growing number of them have the intellectual honesty to declare publicly enough.
Philip Lawler, for example, has just posted an article entitled “The Pope’s shocking statement on the environment” wherein he protests: “Pope Francis has often surprised, confused, and dismayed me. But nothing that he has said or done thus far in his pontificate has shocked me as much as his Message on World Day of Prayer for Creation.”
Lawler is at pains to note repeatedly that the issue is not due respect for God’s creation, but rather that “Francis has added to the traditional lists of corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Unless we simply ignore his statement, young Catholics of future generations will be taught that there are eight works in each category. Alongside feeding the hungry and clothing the naked, there will be listed caring for the environment. Alongside instructing the ignorant and admonishing sinners, there again will be…what, exactly? care for the environment? That change cannot easily be undone.”
Francis, writes Lawler, “is not making an organic change. He is putting things—virtuous actions, I will concede—in a category where they do not belong. When the Pope recommends turning off unnecessary lights, for example, he is making an unarguably positive suggestion; it is a good thing to do. But it is not [his emphasis] a work of mercy, as we have always understood that term. The works of mercy—as they were understood until yesterday—all have a human person as both subject and object…. In the new works that Pope Francis puts forward, the object is the natural environment, not a human soul.”
Moreover, the papal demand for “turning off lights and joining car pools and separating paper from plastics… seems somehow beneath the dignity of the papal office. There is a real danger that by plunging into this sort of mundane specificity, the Pope will dilute the authority of his own teaching office…” More than a danger. That authority has already been drastically diluted, as the bimillenial continuity of papal teaching on faith and morals is almost daily watered down and immixed with what Antonio Socci so aptly dubs “Bergoglianism.”
In the same vein, Jeff Mirus, citing Lawler’s piece, has posted one of his own, mordantly entitled “Why care for the environment shouldn’t make the ‘works of mercy’ list.” A work of mercy, he notes, is always directed to the good of a particular soul whose neediness is before us. Francis’s novelty, however, “inescapably shifts our attention from the person to the environment itself [his emphasis].”
Furthermore, Mirus rightly warns, by demanding specific “green” practices as “works of mercy,” Francis risks subjugating the faithful to political policies he has no right to impose upon them:
“[T]here is also a major danger in overshadowing the highly personal character of these works by including matters which, by their very nature, require prudential social policies to secure the common good.” This danger cannot be overstated. It is precisely here that the personal gives way to the political, and the political gives way to the bureaucratic….
Two things stand out here. First, unlike traditional works of mercy, good people can disagree sharply on environmental policy without being unmerciful. Second, the Church is magisterially incompetent to make any of the practical judgments which alone can shape an appropriate community response to environmental concerns. What will inescapably occur, therefore, is that specific policies will be identified with the Church’s “official” position, and it is these policies which will claim to be the works of mercy which all are called to “do”.
As Mirus further warns in a related piece published the day before: “It is extraordinarily difficult for Christians to avoid further secularization when they believe they are being encouraged by their spiritual leaders to ally themselves with powerful causes that are already championed by the world.”
Indeed, the attachment of the Church to the eminently debatable environmental policies of secular governments, and the outright immoral Sustainable Development Goals of United Nations, which call for “universal access to sexual and reproductive health,” is precisely the outcome Francis demands. As his Message declares:
The protection of our common home requires a growing global political consensus. Along these lines, I am gratified that in September 2015 the nations of the world adopted the Sustainable Development Goals, and that, in December 2015, they approved the Paris Agreement on climate change, which set the demanding yet fundamental goal of halting the rise of the global temperature. Now governments are obliged to honour the commitments they made, while businesses must also responsibly do their part. It is up to citizens to insist that this happen, and indeed to advocate for even more ambitious goals.
The final caption of Mirus’s piece could not be more telling: “That way madness lies.” We need not confine ourselves here to that veiled suggestion. We can say openly what any honest observer with a sensus catholicus is now thinking: this pontificate is insane. Only God knows how it will all turn out. Meanwhile, we can only hope and pray for our deliverance from this growing madness.