Catholic Culture Overview
Catholic Culture Overview

Time for a Papal Intervention

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Sep 08, 2023

For many years—during the pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI—worried Catholics like me wished that the Holy See would intervene to fix the damage caused by liberal American bishops. Now the roles are reversed, and I pray that our bishops, joining with bishops of other countries, will step in to guard the universal Church from the increasingly erratic leadership of Pope Francis.

Bishops are understandably loath to acknowledge serious divisions in the Church, and rightly reluctant to criticize the Roman Pontiff. But in any household, when the father’s behavior is causing serious harm to the family and even to himself, the most loyal and respectful of children realize that the time has come for an intervention.

Any doubt in my mind that that time has come was erased when I read this powerful opening paragraph of a Catholic Thing column by my friend Robert Royal, summarizing an unusually chaotic sequence:

In the past week or so, the pope has: praised “that great imperial Russia” for its noble culture and humanity (a remark later admitted to be “badly phrased”); lauded Genghis Khan’s blood-soaked empire for its religious tolerance and “pax mongolica” (40 million killed, give or take); encouraged Chinese Christians to be good citizens of a nation whose “culture” he greatly admires and whose government is, he says, “very respectful” towards the Church (other views abound); shied away from saying anything more about Nicaragua where the Ortegas are basically outlawing Catholicism and a bishop has been sentenced to 26 years in jail; and denounced worried Catholics, especially American Catholics, for their criticism of—well—many things, but especially “politicizing” the upcoming Synod on Synodality, and embracing rigid and empty “ideologies” instead of following the living doctrine of the Faith.

Anyone who loves the Catholic Church must be concerned about a Pontiff who manages to offend so many different groups of people in the course of one week by a series of ill-considered statements. But the problems of this disastrous papacy run much deeper. For more than a decade now, Pope Francis has been causing confusion among the faithful on matters of faith and morals. With a liberal cadre of prelates committed to “irreversible change,” and the upcoming Synod on Synodality providing their opportunity, our ailing Church sorely needs a strong infusion of clarity.

Pope Francis and his stalwart supporters assure us that the Synod will make no change in Catholic doctrine. But does that matter, if no one pays attention to doctrine anyway?

Imagine that somehow an avowed heretic won election to the papacy. Imagine further that this heresiarch wanted to destroy Catholic faith in the Trinity. He could go about this nefarious task in two different ways:

  • He could issue an ex cathedra statement denying the reality of the Triune God. (Or could he? Would the Holy Spirit prevent it?) But if he did, hundreds of orthodox bishops and millions of ordinary faithful Catholics would rise up in outrage to defend the true faith.
  • Or he could avoid any direct statement on the Trinity—and thus avoid a showdown—but merely observe that the doctrine is difficult, that some people cannot accept it, that we should keep open minds, that the Church welcomes those who struggle with the doctrine. And meanwhile he could promote theologians and prelates who more openly questioned the doctrine.

Wouldn’t the latter option be more likely to undermine faith in the Trinity among the world’s Catholics? And isn’t that approach what we have seen acted out in this pontificate, particularly in regard to Catholic moral teachings? Pope Francis has never formally contradicted an established doctrine. But he has downplayed the importance of Church teaching, criticized those who adhere to the teaching for their “rigidity,” and offered his support to dissidents who do demand doctrinal changes. The net effect of this approach is to convey the impression that doctrine doesn’t really matter—that an up-to-date Catholic may accept or reject Church moral teaching as he chooses.

Many Church leaders, I fear, are willing to bide their time, watching nervously but maintaining a respectful silence, as long as there is no frontal assault on a defined doctrine. But in the long run the confusion of the faithful and the erosion of traditional teaching can be every bit as devastating. The time for intervention is now.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: Cinciradiopriest - Sep. 15, 2023 9:19 PM ET USA

    I am very concerned about PF and his minions. What he has been very adept at is playing the doubt card. He does not come out explicitly to reject it but instead wants to replace surety of faith with doubt. This is straight out of the book of Genesis, "Who told you that you would die?"

  • Posted by: Lucius49 - Sep. 12, 2023 10:37 PM ET USA

    Intervention? No. Conversion. This pope intervenes promoting those who contradict Catholic teaching. He name-calls and demeans the clergy. Mercy for some not for others. The Argentine paper Clarín opined: “ Bergoglio is not seeking to improve the Church. Nor the doctrine of the Church. He is only attending to his internal political game which he does in the usual way.” He talks the talk of synodality while he walks the walk of power wounding the Church and the papacy. I pray for his conversion.

  • Posted by: miketimmer499385 - Sep. 10, 2023 4:27 PM ET USA

    Intervention now is better than intervention later but, intervention was necessary long ago. The gospel this Sunday established the necessity and procedure for correction. Unfortunately it did not address confrontation with the Pope. However, I think we can exclude reliance on the bishops because they cannot in general even correct the blatant abortionist heretics who they allow to call themselves Catholic and impugn all that is holy in our faith. A sad, sad situation too long festering.

  • Posted by: rameyersjr9828 - Sep. 10, 2023 3:18 PM ET USA

    I forwarded on. I got back the question, who should intervene? If the Bishops refuse are we to plan a "peaceful protest pilgrimage" to Rome? To each Chancery across the globe? Could it be as simple as holding signs that say, "Repent and believe in the gospel." Mark 1:15 Sin is like cancer, more sin is terminal cancer. If sin doesn't matter, then neither does the Church. I believe it's sackcloth and ashes time. Time for the faithful Bishops to lead us through it. We must Pray for them.

  • Posted by: Gramps - Sep. 09, 2023 11:04 PM ET USA

    We can, seriously, pray for the repose of the soul of this pope. That would be a charitable request to God that this pope needs conversion.....mainly so he may be ready to meet the Supreme Judge.

  • Posted by: padre3536 - Sep. 09, 2023 9:32 AM ET USA

    AL within the text and footnote/w logically, id est, right reason, is one example of doctrine openly dismissed - also go and sin some more rejects go and sin no more and give Communion; the doctrine on the eternal loss and condemnation of the soul is dismissed as contrary to God and His Gospel...and the letter by worldwide individuals who have called out against false teachings and other doctrine denials can be found all over the place - it is not unclear or uncertain, it clear & certain...sadly

  • Posted by: CorneliusG - Sep. 09, 2023 8:12 AM ET USA

    I think you mean time for an Episcopal Intervention. A "Papal Intervention" means the Pope intervenes, and that's not likely to happen, is it? He's the problem, not the solution.

  • Posted by: rfr46 - Sep. 09, 2023 7:27 AM ET USA

    PS I agree that some form of brotherly correction is necessary, but it needs to be very carefully prepared so that it is more effective than the dubia that were courageously presented to PF. Any attempt at brotherly correction would have to have a second to third wave to follow an initial rejection (or non-response) by PF.

  • Posted by: rfr46 - Sep. 09, 2023 7:22 AM ET USA

    An effective intervention must have a very high percentage of participation in order to succeed. Does anyone actually believe that there would be enough participants to persuade PF to change his ways. He has already demonized the "rigid" and other bishops critical of his behavior. He has effectively ethnically cleansed any faithful and orthodox bishops and cardinals. His vindictive character has intimidated any bishops and priests who might disagree with him. Other strategies are necessary.

  • Posted by: feedback - Sep. 09, 2023 3:37 AM ET USA

    "Wouldn’t the latter option be more likely to undermine faith?" The multiple papal interviews with atheist Eugenio Scalfari followed that MO. Starting in 2013, Scalfari would report something outrageous and anti Catholic allegedly said by Francis, which was then followed by a very weak semi-correction from the Vatican. Two steps forward, one step back. Rinse and repeat. Sincere Catholics used to blame the nonsense they heard on bad translations, but wondered why the pope does it again and again.