As early as 2017, the Italian website Campari & De Maistre highlighted the possibility of schism. They noted, however, that the danger of division wasn’t to be found in Germany, despite all the pressure already coming from the German Church. Instead, we were to look for danger coming from Latin America.

Latin America – the article argued – was experiencing a substantial socio-political evolution, in which a homogeneous territorial foundation was being translated into a potentially schismatic theological discourse.

Today, that line of reasoning on the schism of the Latin American Church seems dramatically relevant. It suddenly came to mind as I reviewed the incredible activism of the Dicastery of the Doctrine of the Faith led by Cardinal Victor Manuel Fernandez.

The latest document of the Dicastery is Fiducia Supplicans. In 45 points, with – as always – quotations from the magisterium of Pope Francis, but rarely quotations from the Fathers of the Church or from the Catechism, the document climbs onto rugged terrain: the blessing of irregular couples, whether divorced and remarried couples or those made by people of the same sex.

The final reasoning is that no, you cannot bless anything other than a marriage, and no union other than a marriage between a man and a woman open to life is accepted by the Catholic Church. However, individual blessings are allowed because whoever asks for a blessing asks for God’s grace. It is not the union that is blessed, but the people, even people in a state of sin.

All of this is, of course, common sense. As usual, common sense was to avoid giving public blessings to unions other than marriage, to manage some borderline situations in private, and to leave the decision on what to do and how to do it to the priest’s discernment. After all, it was taken for granted that the priest would act according to the correct doctrine and conscience, remaining faithful to the deposit of faith without failing to accompany every problematic situation.

The text of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith is written with unclear arguments. As the French Dominican Thomas Michelet said, “It lacks precision.” There is never the word “conversion”; there is never, in the text, a description of what sin is. In the end, there is no idea of a Christian vocation. For this vocation, we try to live according to specific criteria called doctrine. It is through this vocation that the possibility of sin is highlighted. It is for this vocation that we go to confession.

However, the fact that the text lacks precision lies precisely in the different mentality between classical and Latin American theology.

Here are two different approaches, the second certainly more pragmatic and less based on philosophical thought. So much so, that the philosophical ideas employed by Latin American theology have always been borrowed from the Western world. Liberation theology, for example, was born on Marxist categories that Latin American theologians learned in Europe (Boff studied in Germany, Gutierrez in France).

Pope Francis brought this mentality to the leadership of the Catholic Church.

From the beginning, the Pope alternated a populist approach (the image of the shepherd among the people, who pays for his hotel even if he became Pope, who personally carries his bag on the plane, who uses a silver cross and not gold) with the the desire to bring to the center a series of issues that, from Latin America, seemed underappreciated.

It is from the periphery that the center is best seen,” Pope Francis has often said. In this way, he claimed that there was a world that was not only not understood but was even neglected by Rome and that it was Rome that did not understand. In other cases, Pope Francis has underlined that Latin American theology is called to become “source theology,” and this is also a claim of importance because theological thought is not called to evolve but to be an example.

In this pontificate, the Pope then implemented a sort of cultural revolution based on pragmatism, as demonstrated by the latest reform in the Pontifical Academy of Theology, where it is clearly said that one should not be afraid of borrowing categories from other disciplines. With subsequent steps – the Pope began by asking for multidisciplinarity and an approach to the human person not limited only to certain principles but open to social demands – Pope Francis has thus brought the Latin American idea to the center of the Church.

Pope Francis does not only have Latin American cultural references. Yet, in general, it seems that the Pope has been overinterpreted in his intellectual roots. He is a Jesuit who never finished his doctorate, who comes from technical studies, and who, in any case, lived a complicated reality where action came before vision.

He should not be underestimated.

Until now, however, the Pope’s vision harmonized, or at least entered into dialogue, with a different institutional vision of the Church linked to history and traditions. Pope Francis had changed something that concerned him personally, such as the protocol for the reception of divorced and remarried heads of state, or, since the beginning of his pontificate, his refusal to wear the red mozzetta, which has always been part of the papal raiment, and which has been erroneously associated with a symbol of temporal power.

After ten years of pontificate, however, the generational transition has ended. The death of Benedict XVI also closed an era. Pope Francis, thus, brought Victor Manuel Fernandez from the periphery to the center, created him cardinal, and put him at the head of the Dicastery of the Doctrine of the Faith, putting in black and white that some methods used in the past by the Dicastery should no longer be used.

Not only did the Pope take revenge on the curia, which did not approve of his choice of Fernandez as rector of the Catholic University, but he also claimed the need to break with history, except that the present can also be viewed with prejudice.

Since his arrival, Fernandez has brought the Latin American reading of the ecclesial situation. He did so with frequently published responsa ad dubia, answering questions that seemed evident because, in general, everything has always been left to the discernment of bishops and priests.

You can take a tour of the parishes: the cases of communion denied to single mothers are very few and part of a particular situation because it has never been thought of simply denying communion even when situations are difficult; blessings have never been denied to anyone; rigidity of thought has never been a true discriminant, and it must be said that it concerned the faithful, more than the pastors. Then, there are particular cases and abuses. However, these situations do not affect the general picture of the story.

After all, before, there was no need for a response because these questions fell into a typical mentality and a common language. But what we are trying to do now is to change the language and, in doing so, to change the nature of the Church. A vision of the world is being imposed, while the Pope accuses all those who oppose this new vision of the world of backwardness and even makes life difficult for traditionalists.

We have often wondered why many of the Pope’s choices, although logical and not even too devastating, have had such a disastrous impact, at least in people’s perception. And the answer lies precisely in the language, in the imposed vision of the world. It is not the fact but the worldview that determines the fear for the future of the Church under Pope Francis.

It is not anti-popery, but the incomprehension of particular envy that is perceived every time the Pope describes situations he does not share. And the descriptions are sometimes unfair because they are nourished by the prejudice of the periphery, which feels marginalized.

By doing so, a schism is confirmed, and the practical schism formed in Latin America is brought to the center of the Church. It is a schism that arises from a popular and populist vision, from the need to respond to a society that was formed without a philosophical structure, with a neo-colonial and, at the same time, colonized mentality.

It’s a revolt of those who felt like slaves and can now make the decisions. However, they have not raised their cultural level or learned a new language. They demanded that the institutions get used to their language.

Except that a language needs depth to be perceived and experienced. It needs history; It needs to be nourished by substance. It is not an abstract idea nor a theory but lives in the history of the Church. It will be said that the Pope’s language is concrete while that of the Church has been confined to an empyrean. I find it to be quite the opposite.

The Pope’s texts, Fernandez’s response, are full of idiomatic expressions that need to be explained, sometimes even vague ones. Furthermore, Pope Francis has waged a real ideological battle over neo-Gnosticism and neo-Pelagianism, although the way he explains this return to ancient heresies is entirely personal. In some cases, the issues are de-contextualized, as when the Pope speaks of spiritual worldliness.

Questions for intellectual debate? Perhaps. But, when the Pope speaks, the intellectual discussion cannot be ignored. The Pope’s language does not signal a new way of describing the world. Still, the imposition of a different vision, perhaps neglected in recent years, is certainly not central to understanding the things of the Church.

Until now, this practical schism was only experienced in Latin America, but now it has been brought to the heart of the Church. The state of a permanent Synod desired by Pope Francis fuels confusion because, on the one hand, everyone feels they have the right to be heard, but on the other, the Church needs a unity of purpose. The fact is that this unity cannot exist when language is changed in such a sudden and almost brutal way.

These are all topics to be reflected upon, with serenity, also trying to take the good from this approach of the Pope, but without denying that there are problems.

After Fiducia Supplicans, the New York Times immediately documented Father James Martin blessing a gay couple, who then published an article praising the openness of the Church and chronicling his marriage. And so even the battle at the Synod of Bishops, where the synod fathers eliminated any reference to LGBTQ+ couples to speak in a more Catholic way about “sexual orientation,” was somehow lost.

In short, the language change also allows the perpetuation of an ideology that wants to change how the Church perceives itself. But the Church is not the prejudice that is reported. The Church has never been as far as it feels. The Church has never just been the bearer of prejudice. And it is striking that, from within the Church, prejudice is accepted as a fact, and work is done to shake it off using not the truth but publicity.

Or, as the Pope would say, by offering a sacrifice “on the altar of hypocrisy.”


2 Responses to Pope Francis, a pragmatic schism in progress?

  1. Australia scrive:

    The night is far gone; deliver us, O Lord, from this misguided, embittered man and his Latin American henchman.

  2. [...] the church has seen are buried deep in the history books. But for the first time in recent memory, the “s-word” is being dusted off and bandied in some [...]

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