Friday, October 3, 2014


My only comment: This well-written article seems to be fair and balanced and connects the dots.

From the

Is Pope Francis purging the Curia of conservatives?

The rolling of heads is hardly a de-Ratzingerisation, but it does suggest an adjustment to the line taken by Benedict XVI and St John Paul II

By on Friday, 3 October 2014

There is a story that when Giacomo della Chiesa was elected pope in September 1914, Cardinal Raphael Merry del Val turned to his neighbour in the Sistine Chapel and exclaimed: “This is a disaster!” His interlocutor wryly answered: “For Your Eminence, yes it is.”

Merry del Val had enjoyed untrammelled authority as secretary of state to Pius X, and della Chiesa, who took the name Benedict XV, was the candidate of a rival faction. Merry del Val had vigorously opposed his election and feared the end of his career. In the end, his fears were only partly fulfilled. Benedict was known to detest the Anglo-Spanish cardinal cordially, but he did not feel able to banish his influence completely. Although he was indeed replaced as secretary of state, Merry del Val lived out the remainder of his life as secretary of the Holy Office, a post only marginally less powerful.
Almost exactly a century later, many are sensing a settling of scores of a comparable, but more radical nature at work in the curial nominations being made by Pope Francis. So many heads have rolled, or are said to be about to roll, that one prominent Vaticanologist has written of a process of “de-Ratzingerisation” at work in the Curia.

It does seem at first sight as if several of those closest to Benedict XVI have fallen victim to the change of climate in Rome. First to feel the heat – at least publically – was the genial Italian Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, whose move a year ago from the post of prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy to the post of prefect of the Apostolic Penitentiary is hard to interpret as anything but a demotion. Another high profile change was the removal of the Spaniard Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera from the prefecture of the Congregation for Divine Worship – a congregation whose remit is at the heart of the Ratzingerian project – to become archbishop of his native Valencia. Since Cañizares was known as the “little Ratzinger” – as much on account of his appearance as because of his theology – many were quick to see his departure from Rome as evidence of a purge.

By far the biggest shock waves, however, come with the apparently credible leak that Cardinal Raymond Burke, possibly the most outspoken and forceful advocate of a return to the enforcement of Church discipline in Rome, is about to be unceremoniously removed from the post of prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, which gives him a powerful influence over the interpretation and application of Canon Law, and to which Benedict appointed him in 2008. The most astonishing part of the rumour is that, rather than being moved sideways to head another dicastery, or even receiving what might be perceived as a demotion like Cardinal Piacenza, the change in Cardinal Burke’s status looks like an unambiguous humiliation. It would appear that the American cardinal, recognised as a formidable legal mind and at 66 a relative youngster in the Sacred College, is to be given the largely ceremonial role of patron of the Knights of Malta. This is historically seen as a sinecure filled either by aged cardinals at the end of their career or held by younger ones cumulatively with more substantial responsibilities.

The question which many have been asking since the election of Francis is henceforth unavoidable: is the current Pope engaged in the dismantling of his predecessor’s legacy? Such a process, suspected with a growing sense of foreboding by some and with increasingly unrestrained glee by others, would seem to be a logical explanation for the piecemeal removal of men carefully selected by Benedict and by St John Paul II before him.

Before rushing to judgment, let us look at the facts. Too much has been made of the case of Cardinal Cañizares. It was known well before Benedict’s abdication that the Spaniard was pining to return to his homeland and eyeing the soon to be vacant see of Madrid. So his return to Spain has nothing ominous about it, but it might be significant that he is going to a see of lesser rank than the one many thought he would get as a foregone conclusion.

Cardinal Piacenza’s move raises more question marks, since it seems to be part of a radical overhaul of the dicastery he previously headed. Its secretary, Celso Morga Iruzubieta, linked to Opus Dei and close to Piacenza, is tipped to be named very shortly to a Spanish diocese not of first importance. There are rumours of serious turmoil within this department of the Curia. I have no idea what the origin of this state of affairs might be or whether it is linked with the debacle which unfolded within its area of competency in 2010, when the expected proclamation of St John Vianney as patron of all the priests of the world was suddenly and inexplicably cancelled. Perhaps more information will emerge in the future.

With regard to Cardinal Burke, I think there is little doubt that his coming defenestration, if confirmed, does demonstrate a desire by Francis to steer a course distinct from that of Benedict. It is true that it may be due in part to a project of curial retrenchment which involves the amalgamation of various dicasteries and a consequent shortage of posts for those whose departments disappear. But Burke’s status was diminished already when the new Pope dispensed with his services as member of the Congregation for Bishops in December 2013. This was not only a humiliation for the cardinal but also a serious setback for the “Ratzingerian” agenda he and others had pursued in that dicastery with energy and success.

In fact, I have suspected from day one that Francis was elected in order to pursue an agenda different from Benedict’s and that he himself consciously desires a change of course. I am still not sure how radical the desired change is, at least in the Pope’s own mind, but I will hazard a guess. A glance back to my starting point might help us understand the contemporary scene.

At the conclave of 1914, there was a curial faction which intended to pursue vigorously the anti-Modernist policy pursued under Pius X, spearheaded by Merry del Vel. Then there was a faction of “liberals” (I use the inverted commas because by today’s standards their “liberalism” was moderate to the point of invisibility) which was opposed to this campaign and wished to pursue a policy of openness to modernity. There was, however, also a third group, no less orthodox in reality than Merry del Val, but who were concerned that the latter had led an over-zealous witch hunt where loyal theologians and bishops were being targeted unjustly (some will remember that St John XXIII discovered on his election that he had been among the suspects).

In the end, the first two groups could not get their men elected and della Chiesa, the candidate of the third faction, was elected as a compromise candidate when “liberals” and moderates united against the diehard ultras.

I am increasingly persuaded that the 2013 conclave was played out along similar lines.

A long-awaited nomination made last month may help to illustrate my point. The new Archbishop of Chicago, Blase Cupich, is a disappointment to the culture warriors of the Catholic component of the American religious Right. He eschews the confrontational approach in which prelates like Cardinal Burke seemed to delight, and yet he has defended Catholic doctrine on all of the controversial points clearly, but without ire. Pope Francis is said to have taken an unusually active role in securing Bishop Cupich’s promotion. Significantly, he recently remarked that “Pope Francis doesn’t want cultural warriors, he doesn’t want ideologues”.

Seen within this context, Cardinal Burke’s nationality is not without significance in his presumed downfall. The standpoint of many American Catholics who have embraced political neo-conservatism seems dangerously ideological to many Europeans, even those with no sympathy for doctrinal laxity. To stridently uphold the Magisterium when it upholds traditional sexual morality and the sanctity of life, while relativising it when it condemns the excesses of capitalism and upholds a role for the state in redistributing wealth and providing healthcare, for example, looks like selective moralising.

Cardinal Burke has not fallen into the extremes of certain US commentators who dismiss the teachings of successive popes on social justice as mere personal opinions. But he has publicly relativised the magisterial authority of Evangelii Gaudium, while adopting uncompromising stands on issues like Communion for politicians who dissent from other moral teachings. I suspect that this has caused concern to influential persons in Rome, including those who are far from liberal on doctrinal issues. Perhaps it has irritated the Pope himself.

So perhaps Francis, if he does remove Cardinal Burke, intends to send a message to the US Church that ideologies like neo-conservatism must not be allowed to use Catholic doctrine as a weapon. Of course, this must also apply to those who would use it in the service of a liberal ideology. There are certainly those in Rome who wish to dismantle the legacy of Benedict and of St John Paul II. There are also those who wish to see a slight rectification of the line of fire and, rightly or wrongly, believe that that legacy needs to be pursued with more caution. The present Pope may be closer to the second group than the first. The outcome of the upcoming synods on the family will tell us more.

Of course, popes can make mistakes, and the present pope has admitted candidly that he can and has. If Cardinal Burke is made a scapegoat, that might well be a papal mistake. If Francis seriously undermines Benedict’s legacy – whether intentionally or as the unwitting tool of a faction in the Curia – then that will certainly be a mistake, for Benedict gave us a rational account of our faith and an analysis of the problems besetting it, both of unequalled cogency. But history, under Providence, has its way of evening things out. Aspects of the career of Merry del Val remain controversial. But few would deny that St Pius X’s legacy to the Church is more significant than that of his successor.

Fr Mark Drew is a priest currently working in the Archdiocese of Liverpool. He holds a doctorate in ecumenical theology from the Institut Catholique in Paris, and has also studied in Germany and Rome


rcg said...

What has Pope Francis *DONE* about politicians? I am concerned that his pastoral desires, certainly laudable, may be naive and end up supporting the belief that communion is a right and adherence to teaching is an act of conscience.

This article also seems to assume that the conservatives, e.g. Burke, were the problems in the Curia. This seems inverted if not intentionally misleading.

JBS said...

In some ways, it would have been a pastoral justice for the papacy to move from Paul VI directly to Francis. The pontificates of JPII and Benedict, however, gave us a very particular application of VCII--reform instead of rupture--which in turn influenced the pastoral practice of a significant minority of bishops and priests (e.g. insistent moral teaching, the reintroduction of the traditional Roman Mass). Had there been no JPII and BXVI, there would be less confusion today under Francis.

The key pastoral question today has to be: what does it mean to have been taught by JPII to keep moral teaching prominent, and by BXVI to keep divine worship reverent, only to be taught now by Francis to keep moral teaching quiet and to minimize divine worship?

To be sure, Francis' promotion of poverty and humility is virtuous, but it is confusing to some of us for him to promote these virtues in opposition to moral teaching and reverent worship.

Jdj said...

A very cogent article...much food for thought here. Thanks, Father.

Anonymous said...

"But few would deny that St Pius X’s legacy to the Church is more significant than that of his successor."

It is very hard to look at the current state of affairs and not be tempted to believe that the current regime is settling some old scores, especially since it has been reported that Burke was one of the most vocal opponents to the election of Bergoglio in the last conclave.

Great leaders are inclusive and open to the comments and advice of those we might perceive as their "enemies". Clearly, that is not happening now. If this is indeed the de-Ratzingerization that many speculate, the current pope and his cronies would be well advised to rein in their purging. This kind of overreaching creates great resentment and could very well result in a backlash in the next conclave.

I, for one, believe that when the dust settles, Ratzinger will have a far more enduring legacy than Bergoglio for one act alone: Summorum Pontificum. We have spent 50 years trying to convince ourselves and the world that we are the one Church we have always been while shunning just about everything liturgically that made us so unique. So far, all Bergoglio has offered us is more in the PR vein of things. While PR is certainly more important than substance in our modern world, the history writers will take substance into account far more than popular perceptions from one period of time.

JBS said...


Are you certain his focus is best characterized as PR? I suggest he simply believes the Church will be more effective in the Modern World by focusing our attention on foundational beliefs, rather than on moral practice and liturgical discipline.

Joe Potillor said...

Either Pope Francis is really trying to make enemies out of those who want to support him (purging traditionalists) or he's trimming the fat on the Roman Curia and firing everyone and doctrinal stances don't matter. I lean towards the former rather than the latter as far as my opinion goes.

I do not find it a mere coincidence that people of a liberal bent are being put in high places, nor do I find it a coincidence that people are being moved...(Pope Francis was a chemistry major, I believe him to be very calculated)

The Liturgical and Moral Issues are very foundational, for without our worship of God, we can't effectively evangelize the culture and transform it like unto Him. Let's face it, for the vast majority of Catholics, they encounter (or are supposed to) Christ in the Liturgy. If He is veiled through abuses or just lackluster Liturgy, is it any wonder the world is in the state that it's in?

I do tend to agree that if Francis followed Paul VI this pontificate might make a bit more sense. It feels like a replay of the 70's even though i wasn't born for another 15 years after the fact. The only difference where Paul VI was hesitant to use authority, Francis is by no means shy of using it, as a matter of fact he's rather authoritarian and not much into process.

As I've said before, I tend to think he was elected to undo the work of Benedict XVI and the latter years of JPII. Even giving the perception that things can change (even though they will not) during this Synod is enough to cause worry. My biggest fear is not that doctrine will change, but that they'll bypass it completely.

Kyrie eleison

Nathanael said...

I am ashamed to say - because it grieves me deeply - the fact I have stayed away from Mass for a little over a month. To be honest, at the beginning of this separation, there was no intention of coming back to Mass (and the Confessional).

I kept up a pretty face for my family and many people in the Church (for over a year); by this September I was sick to death of being secretly plagued by the same issues over and over (and, yes, in part by the words of the Holy Father, among others).

A horrible car accident related to a friend of the family put the Holy Fear back into my spine. I can honestly say I have no intention of placing myself back into the liturgical loopies of a certain American Diocese. I pray Our Lord understands this is not pride or vanity (and I am not deluding myself it is not those things). I intend to go to Mass and Confession (and pray the Breviary) in its old, safe form and keep my opinions to myself.

I never would have thought at the beginning of the last Pontificate I would drift to the Archbishop’s way of thinking. Of course, where I live it is impossible to attend an SSPX Chapel regularly. So I am joining that bunch people who commute to a distant parish to have their spiritual needs met. In all honesty, I feel like a Baptist!

Let the Post-Conciliar sway in the wind – this poor soul has thrown in the towel.

Randy said...

I'm going to be honest - my commitment and faith were strongest during the reign of Pope Benedict. While I am still committed to the Church, this has been a major trial for me over the past year and a half. If I saw evidence that Pope Francis approach was bringing people back to the Church, I would be supportive. In many ways, I fear that this approach is confirming us in our sins and will actually provoke a formal schism in the Church.

Cameron said...

Joe I have a hard time believing Francis was elected to somehow undo the fundamental aspects of the Pontificates of his immediate two Predecessors.

I really don't get the impression that the Electors of 2013 thought JPII and BXVI were douche idiots.

That's not to say that they didn't want to see some things change, but I think a lot of trads should get their heads out of their bottoms...

Jdj said...

Nathaniel, I'm struggling too--I will pray for you.
We give part of our tithe to Catholic Social Services and believe that social activism in the church should remain in the good, capable hands of that agency of the church. Sunday worship should be just that: worship of the one triune God, not humans. Good works flow from true faith resulting from solid teaching of the gospel lessons. Strength for the battle is provided by the Eucharist. We are not just another social work agency, or worse yet a social or country club that meets once a week.
Modernism over the past 40 years has all but destroyed so much of what has empowered us. It will be up to a new more committed priestly generation focused on true worship to restore what has been lost.

Nathanael said...

Yes, you are correct. No one should reasonably think the Holy Father was elected to overturn the work of his predecessors. This would mean the changing of Doctrine. This Holy Father is a man of action, not doctrine. This is what the majority of the College wanted – and they have their man.

This reminds me of Augustus. He could not really claim to be divine (and stay in power). However, he could decree his “martyred” uncle was a descendant of Venus. Thereby, if a god adopted him as his son, he must have some quasi-divinity. This is the play-at-hand with the Truth. After all, there is Truth, truth, and quasi-truth (the bridge between the other two).

Part of this was, for me, leaving seminary. I was told I was making the wrong decision by the powers that be. In all honestly, this has been the most painful year in my life. I felt I was constantly being pulled back and forth through the looking-glass. In all honesty, I feel foolish and then other times I feel at peace.Let me be clear, this was never about looking down on someone or feeling superior; I have nothing but good things to say, overall.

As someone who I suppose would now be considered a Traditionalist – we may have our heads up a certain part of our anatomy. I, for one, had a tremendous amount of help putting it there over the past two years – and it is wedged tightly.

Anonymous said...

On and on and on it goes...the talk about how the Church is going to hell in a hand basket...Francis is trying to destroy 2000 years of tradition (or is it Tradition?)...I don't think I can take it any more...turn back the hands of time...booo vtwooo. I'm waiting for some one of you to simply gather your gonads and say "that's it...I'm don....outa here"... Who's first?

Joe Potillor said...

Cameron, et al

Doctrinally of course nothing can change in the Church. It can be explained further, even bypassed by misuse of free will, but Church teaching can't change.

What I mean by "undoing" the work of Benedict XVI and latter JPII is the precisely the change in emphasis in the pontificate. We can't do anything unless we get our internal part right and this is something JPII did towards the later part of his pontificate (Redemptionis Sacramentum) and continued into Benedict XVI figured out….the crisis in Liturgy.

By no means did the Cardinals think either JPII or Benedict Xvi were idiots, but there was absolute disdain by many within the Cardinalate of Benedict XVI and that came out through the liberals gloating at the election of Pope Francis.

So I think it is indeed justified to say that Francis was elected to "undo" the work of Benedict XVI and JPII in my opinion.

It is certainly true he (Pope Francis) will not give the liberals everything they ask for (he simply can't) but to say that he's a traditionalist would be wrong too. My biggest fear is not the changing of Church teaching, NO Pope has the power to do that, but rather the bypassing of Church teaching, praxis and protocol (which we've already seen).

Kyrie eleison

Gene said...

Anonymous, But, where the Hell are we gonna' go? It just isn't possible to go back to Protestantism. They prove every day that they are apostate and heretical. The SSPX is the only real alternative, and their Churches are few and far between. If, as I am, you are convinced that Catholic doctrine and Christology are the truest manifestation of Christ's Church, then we just have to hang out until something changes for the better. I am lucky to be a member of St. Jo's, but when Fr. leaves it will probably join the liturgical rabble unless he is allowed to pick a successor. Fr, bring back Fr. Justin or Fr. David when you go.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

But isn't that the message? Protestants always abandon Peter and they point out his foibles and his denials and his weaknesses and refuse to accept the three-fold forgiveness Jesus offers him and each successor.

I'm sticking with Peter through thick and thin. I'm a Catholic and always will be a Catholic forever and ever!

Anonymous said...

Isn't there some kind of rule somewhere that says that if you're a Catholic and become not a Catholic that you are absolutely going to Hell?

Nathanael said...


I do not want to leave the Church because I do not want to be damned to Hell. I have no wish to leave to the Church. I do not have the balls to suffer in Hell for all eternity.


I think your answer is an oversimplification.

My only problem with Church is the big why. Why can’t people who want the traditional sacraments be given them purely out of compassion? Why is it so easy to give every sort of moral degenerate the God-loves-you-and-so-do-I speak within the Church (and then go out of their way to bring them back to the sacraments) and make life difficult for those who just want to live out their Faith in the same fashion their ancestors did. It is such a small minority of people – whose ego is it going to hurt?

Why drive good people to the SSPX (or perhaps to dangers such as the various sedevacantists and other “independent” and “catholic” groups)? Imagine my surprise when I actually read a Lefebvre-book and it made perfect sense. I wouldn’t give one whit if the Holy Father concelebrated a mass with a rabbi, an imam, female bishop, George Clooney, T.D. Jakes, and Queen Elizabeth II – just so long as the door to Tradition wasn’t closed, or half cracked, for those who desire it. Why call another Council…er…Synod? The other one gave the Church so much unity and direction in the modern world, right?

I do not care what the Holy Father thinks personally about this social issue or that moral issue. Why can’t he just say what the Church says without the embellishments? All this does is confuse people, give false hope, and scandalize others. Doesn’t the Holy Father know if he didn’t have the title of Bishop of Rome his opinions would get the same press as practically every other Catholic Bishop?

Gene: Aren’t there many alternatives besides SSPX? For me, an Eastern Catholic Church is just as close as the 1962 Roman Rite. I keep going back and forth as to what to do. I think for now I am going to stay with a diocesan 1962 Sunday Mass and keep my mouth shut.

Joe Potillor said...

Leaving the Church is not an option….but if, and that' s a big if the unthinkable happens there will be a split along the lines of Francis v. Benedict and that's the last thing the Church needs.

Gene said...

Nathanael, Not within the Roman Rite. There are some theological/Christological problems with the Eastern Rite, as well.

Nathanael said...

My opinion (worth nothing I know), is the Synod will change nothing on paper (so to speak).

Here is my imagining of a Vatican Press release quoting you-know-who:

“However, there will be pastoral directives in keeping with “openness” and “conviviality” to ensure the People of God participates fully within the Body of Christ. The various Bishop’s Conferences will ensure this task is accomplished post-haste. After all, Our Lord’s main directive was to bring his people to His Father. To quote our Beloved Predecessor: God is Love. This Synod is the work of the Holy Spirit to ensure the needs of faithful are met in a modern, changing world.”


“Sinners demand the price of admission. Who wants to amend their life? Sin is fun. The hierarchy listens. After all, they put their money in the offertory; they want their communion. Under both species please!”

There is a very funny T-Shirt from The Onion with an image of a Bald Eagle with the caption (to paraphrase): “Bald Eagle Is Tired Everyone Assumes it Supports War.” Maybe someone should go on Zazzle and take an image of a dove with the caption: “Holy Ghost Is Tired Everyone Assumes He Directs Every Whim of Popes.”

Jdj said...

Gene, could you explain some of the problems with the Eastern Rite you mentioned? I've been wondering, just as Nathanael. I know you don't prefer making long comments, but it sure might help some of us who don't have access to a TLM, St. Joseph's, or the SSPX at all.
Or, alternatively, could you recommend any written material on the subject? Thanks

Gene said...

Jdj, Without getting into a long theological discussion,
there are some significant theological differences that bother me. Eastern Christology tends to be docetic (influence of Nestorius, who separated the Divine and human natures of Christ), there are pretty strong Pelagian elements, and the rejection of the filioque seems to me to be, ultimately, non-Trinitarian. They reject Augustine pretty much completely, which would keep me away if nothing else. They have a more or less protestant ecclesiology, with no Pope and Bishops who are equally autonomous within their own territories. There are just a bunch of problems for me.

Gene said...

Jdj, RE: long comments. I have written quite a few long theological or Biblical theology comments when responding to the few progressives on the blog but, since none of them wish to talk theology/Christology, I have quit doing so. Everyone else on here seems to be in general agreement, which is nice.

Joe Potillor said...

In order to understand the Eastern Rites, you need to understand Eastern Theology as a whole. One can't apply Roman Theology to Eastern Thought, and for that matter vise versa. There are two expressions of the same Faith.

If you look at How the East expresses their understanding of Christ, the filioque does not make sense in that context...because of the restrictions of the Greek Language which the Latin does not have.

There is not an ounce of heresy in the Eastern Rites that are Catholic or even implications of heresy. But that's probably worth another blog post :)

Nathanael said...

Overall, I agree with Joe. If one is a Traditional Catholic and one goes to the Byzantine Rite and expects something out of the reign of Pius XII then one is going to be dissatisfied. It seems it depends on ones attachment to the Tridentine Mass (or why one is attached to it). I have read various things about attempts by dissatisfied Catholics and their attempts at the Latinization of a Byzantine parish they attend, etc.

I also read one can change Rites once and it is very difficult to officially accomplish?

But reading Rorate Caeli, the problems of SSPX may be looked-over due to the Holy Father's pastoral care. It is sad to think the issue of continuity, the cornerstone of the reign of Ratzinger, might be overhauled. However, if the Holy Father gives "some people" what they desire and gives SSPX the ability to reject some elements of the Council - then glory be. But all this is still very sad; it seems Benedict XVI will be put aside like good Queen Catherine.

If Margaret and Johnny can shack-up and go to communion in their diocese and poor, little-old me can go to the SSPX, in the clear from Rome, then I am all for this upcoming Synod. ;)

Aren't these "strange days in deed" to quote poor St. John (and Yoko).