The bombshell news this week is that Pope Francis is not renewing the five-year appointment of Cardinal Gerhard Müller. Müller is being replaced by Spanish Jesuit Archbishop Luis Ladaria Ferrer, who was Secretary of the CDF.
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I confess I'm no expert on Archbishop Ladaria, but given the fact that many had assumed the prefecture would be filled by Cardinal Schönborn, Ladaria seems to be not a terrible choice. His work with Ecclesia Dei is commendable, as was his role in reaching out to the SSPX during the doomed talks of 2009. Still, he seems to be a middle-of-the-road sort of "mutual enrichment" theologian, who views the way forward as a kind of Hegelian synthesis between traditional elements and modern interpretations - Ladaria does not view reform in terms of a strict return ad fontes, but rather a kind of ressourcement approach typical of Danielou, de Lubac and the Nouvelle Theologie. But...whatever. Let's see how he does. Given the fact that we could have wound up with Cardinal Schönborn, I'll take Ladaria.
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I also want to say that I am proud of the job Cardinal Müller did. When Müller was first appointed in 2012, many Traditionalists were skeptical. He had made some comments about Protestantism and other subjects that had ruffled some trad feathers. I don't know about his personal views, but honestly, Müller has done what a CDF Prefect is supposed to do—state the faith plainly and consistently in the face of challenges from within and without the Church. Forget being a theologically conservative prelate; just being a prelate with any sort of theological consistency whatsoever during the Francis papacy must be extraordinarily frustrating. Müller showed considerable fidelity and bravery in the face of what must have been enormous social and institutional pressure during the 2014-2015 synod and especially in its aftermath with Amoris Laetitia. Whatever rifts he may have had with traditionalists in the past, I for one will always remember him as speaking the truth in a dark moment. "Well done, thou good and faithful servant" (Matt. 25:21).
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In case anyone has not read it, you really ought to check out the interview with Father Julian Carron, head of Communion and Liberation ("If you don't think Francis is the cure, you don't grasp the disease", John Allen, Crux, June 21, 2017). Carron is the successor of the renowned Father Luigi Giussani and talks frankly about the crisis in the Church, Francis, and what it means to have faith in the contemporary world.
The interview is very unsettling; Carron essentially says the reason conservatives struggle with understanding Pope Francis is because they blind themselves to the truly revolutionary import of the pope's sayings and gestures—that the revolution Francis wants is much bigger than most conservative Catholics are ready to accept. I would actually grant Carron this point, but that is where my agreement ends, as he goes on to suggest that conservatives need to embrace the Francis revolution—and that if we do not, it's because we don't "really understand" what Francis is trying to do and what the problems in the Church are. He also talks a lot about faith essentially being an "encounter" or "experience", which is really at the heart of what Fr. Giussani has been traditionally criticized for.
I have often promoted the works of James Larson on this blog—not because I necessarily agree with everything Larson says, but because he absolutely gets to the heart of all the problems in the modern Church when he identifies them as a deficient view of faith. I highly recommend reading Mr. Larson's extensive essays at War Against Being.
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At Mr. Larson's site, you will see Mr. Larson proposing a theory that I believe is absolutely accurate but that traditionalists have been very slow to latch on to: Benedict XVI, far from being a theologically conservative counterweight to the progressive movement in the Church, is actually himself an extraordinarily progressive figure. Whether we are discussing Ratzinger's view of the Trinity, of faith, of creation-evolution, of the love, or liturgy or whatever, Ratzinger is a thoroughly progressive, liberal theologian from the school of Teilhard de Chardin. Many traditionalists want to deny this; they want to see Benedict as a kind of solidly traditional counterbalance to Francis. This is not born out by reading Benedict's actual writings. He is not a traditionalist; he is a progressive who has a sort of nostalgic appreciation for some of the forms and symbols of tradition.
In the article from Fr. Carron linked above, Carron will make the same argument. Carron, speaking of comparisons between John Paul II, Benedict, and Francis, said:
After Benedict, it once again seemed there would never be anyone else like him. Instead, a pope arrived who, for me, is a radicalization of Benedict. He says the same thing, but in a way that it gets across to everyone in a simple way through gestures, without in any sense reducing the density of what Benedict said.
Francis is nothing other than a "radicalization" of Pope Benedict XVI. This is true. Everything done by Francis can be found in seed form in Benedict and even John Paul II. Pope Francis' agenda is what happens when we follow the trajectories set by JPII and Benedict to their logical conclusions.
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So, Pope Francis has said he wants the change he is creating to be irreversible. It remains to be seen whether Archbishop Ladaria will stand up to Francis' novelties in the same manner as Cardinal Müller. I have to believe that Francis would not have chosen him were this the case. And it should also not be forgotten that Ladaria is a Jesuit like Francis. I don't know what import that has, but I have to believe it's not irrelevant.
Some are saying that with the departure of Müller, the last bastion of faithful opposition to the Franciscan agenda within the hierarchy has fallen. The Müller CDF was very isolated within the Curia. The opposition of the four cardinals—which is already drawing opposition from other parts of the hierarchy—now seems even more marginalized. I would not be surprised if the remaining years of the Franciscan pontificate witness an even more alarming increase in the scope and speed of novelties being introduced.
One more thing—Francis has suggested in the past that he does not want to have a very long pontificate and that he is open to resigning after he has made his mark on the Church. I predict that he does not resign. Francis reigns in an autocratic style. He is in love with power and adulation. He has completed the task begun long ago by John Paul II of turning the papacy into a cult of personality with himself as the Leader. Given his personality and mode of leadership, there's just no way he will ever step down. No way. He's going to cling to the power he has amassed until death rips it from his fingers.