The conservative currents of Catholicism know how to give voice to the media. The proof: the publication by a prestigious publisher, Gallimard, of an essay in the form of a critical assessment of the current pontificate, entitled Pope Francis, the revolution. Its author is an experienced Vaticanist, Jean-Marie Guénois, editor-in-chief at Figaro and founder, in Rome, of the press agency I.media. The book arrives in bookstores this September 7, two weeks before the sovereign pontiff’s visit to Marseille, and less than a month from a major event which focuses some of the author’s criticisms: the opening at the Vatican of the first session of the Synod assembly on synodality. For the first time, lay people from all over the world will participate alongside bishops in discussions on reforms that would make it possible to better proclaim the Gospel. The work should therefore get people talking.
The thesis of Jean-Marie Guénois? Francis would lead a revolution responding to the three great principles of the revolutionaries of 1789 which made the Church shudder at the time: Equality, Fraternity, Liberty. Gone is the old order, long live the power of the people. The Bastille that Francis would attack would be none other than the Catholic institution. By renouncing the pontifical pomp, Francis would desacralize the function, while governing in an authoritarian, even brutal way. The author denounces “the synodal, that is to say democratic, spirit” instilled by the Jesuit pope – this supposedly imperious pontiff is therefore not as imperious as that – the consequences of which would, in his eyes, be disastrous.
Synodality in the viewfinder
This approach would amount to “breaking the notion of power which defines all the centers of government to transform this culture (…) into a spirit of service, without pre-eminence between Rome and the satellite dioceses, disarticulating the vertical axis of the hierarchy passed for flatten it horizontally”, judges the Vaticanist, without substantiating his remarks. Let us remember that the practice of synodality – another name for co-responsibility – inscribed in the New Testament but forgotten for centuries, has remained alive in religious life, as in the Churches of the East. Redeployed since the Second Vatican Council, it allows the baptized to have a voice, without changing the fact that the pope ultimately makes the important decisions.
“François fought the institution in its clerical aspect so much that he discouraged a lot of good will, particularly among young priests,” insists Jean-Marie Guénois, who dismisses the sexual abuse crisis in a few lines, on the grounds that it would only concern 1 to 5% of priests. The institution “was unable to explain clearly and simply the nature of the evil, its exact dimension”, stings the journalist. In the Letter to the people of God, published in 2018 (Ed. Salvator), Francis clearly designates clericalism – a sacralized conception of the authority of the priest – as the cause of the abuses. The journalist also does not talk about the remarkable work carried out in France by the Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church (Ciase).
Since 2013, the word of the first non-European pope in modern history has gone beyond Catholic circles. But by shaking up the centuries-old customs of the Vatican curia, by revisiting the doctrine of the Church, Francis also very quickly attracted the wrath of prelates opposed to any change. Three years into his pontificate, Cardinals Brandmüller, Burke, Caffarra and Meisner issued a warning in the form of a public declaration, after the pope opened the possibility for divorced and remarried people to receive communion.
Critical voices let loose
In 2020, the historian Yves Chiron, an excellent connoisseur of the papacy, analyzed in a balanced book the rise of what he called “Francoisphobia”*, the permanent criticism of the Argentine pope. In Italy, on the blog of Vaticanist Sandro Magister, and especially in the United States, the most critical voices, in the minority but amplified by social networks, are letting loose. This very summer, in the preface to a book published on August 22 by the American branch of the powerful organization Tradition, Family and Property, Cardinal Burke once again attacked the pope and the synodality in which he sees seeds of schism. The book was widely distributed to English-speaking bishops. In Texas, Bishop Joseph Strickland wrote a pastoral letter warning his diocesan people against the upcoming synod. However, the popularity of the Argentine pope is not weakening across the Atlantic: in 2021, 82% of American Catholics had a favorable opinion of Francis, according to the Pew Research Center.
*Françoisphobia, by Yves Chiron, Ed. deer, 352p. ; €20