New York Times Op-Ed: Pope Francis’ Decade of Division, by Ross Douthat:
Lent is with us, and so is the 10th anniversary of Pope Francis’ ascent to the papal throne — an appropriate conjunction, since these are days of tribulation for his papacy.
There is the two-front war that Rome finds itself fighting on doctrine and liturgy, trying to squash the church’s Latin Mass traditionalists while more gently restraining the liberal German bishops from forcing a schism on Catholicism’s leftward flank.
And then there are the grim numbers for the Francis-era church, like the accelerating drop in the number of men studying for the priesthood worldwide, which peaked around the beginning of Francis’ pontificate and has been declining ever since. Or the unhappy financial picture, now bad enough that the Vatican is charging higher rents to cardinals to compensate for years of deficits.
In the secular press the narrative of Francis as a great reformer was established early on, and as contrary evidence has emerged, the response has often been a decorous silence. It’s been mostly left to his conservative critics to compile the lists of clerics accused of abuse who have been given favorable treatment by this pontiff; or to harp on the failures of financial reform and the absence of any obvious renewal in the pews; or to point out that a pontificate that once promised to make the church less self-referential, less inward-focused, has instead produced a decade of bitter internal arguments and widening theological divisions — while Catholicism’s official verbiage is received with conspicuous indifference by the wider world. ...
I was an early doubter of Francis, fearing roughly the kind of unraveling we’re seeing, and my doubts met intense early opposition among many of my fellow conservative Catholics, who were extremely loath to imagine any daylight between themselves and Rome. So the fact that many of them have since ended up in some sort of opposition seems like a consequence of the specific ways that Francis has pursued his liberalization, rather than just a reflexive opposition to anything outside their comfort zone. ...
[T]he pope has not actually delivered all that much concrete change to the church’s progressive wing, pulling back repeatedly instead — retreating into ambiguity on communion for the divorced and the remarried, pulling up short when it appeared he was going to allow new experiments with married priests, permitting his office of doctrine to declare the impossibility of the blessings for same-sex couples that many European bishops wish to license. ...
Seen now at its 10-year milestone, then, this pontificate hasn’t just faced inevitable resistance because of its zeal for reform. It has needlessly multiplied controversies and exacerbated divisions for the sake of an agenda that can still feel vaporous, and its choices at every turn have seemed to design to create the greatest possible alienation between the church’s factions, the widest imaginable gyre.
Editor's Note: If you would like to receive a weekly email each Sunday with links to the faith posts on TaxProf Blog, email me here.