Reading the Papal Tea Leaves

Hans Kung, the dissenting European theologian, said he was “overwhelmed by joy,” in a radio interview after the elevation of Pope Francis. “There is hope in this man,” gushed Kung, who predicted that Pope Francis will conform to the progressive interpretation of Vatican II and not follow the “line of the two popes from Poland and Germany.”

Leonardo Boff, one of the fathers of liberation theology, was quoted in the German press as saying that Francis is “more liberal” than commonly supposed.

Cardinal Roger Mahony took to Twitter to proclaim that the Church would move from high church to “low” church under Francis: “So long Papal ermine and fancy lace!”

The National Catholic Reporter approvingly quoted an unnamed Vatican diplomat as saying that “the Traditional Latin Mass brigade is finished.”

Esteban Paulon, president of the Argentine Federation of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transsexuals, told the Washington Post that Pope Francis is “known for being moderate” and when “he came out strongly against gay marriage, he did it under pressure from the conservatives.” According to Sergio Rubin, whom the Post calls his authorized biographer, Pope Francis initially “urged his bishops to lobby for gay civil unions” as an alternative to gay marriage.

Benedict’s speech on Islam at the University of Regensburg didn’t sit well with Francis, according to the Telegraph in the United Kingdom. “These statements will serve to destroy in 20 seconds the careful construction of a relationship with Islam that Pope John Paul II built over the last twenty years,” it quotes him as saying.

Reports on his compliance with Benedict’s authorization of wider use of the Traditional Latin Mass are conflicting, but it is safe to say that he was less than thrilled by it. According to columnist E.J. Dionne, “an American bishop noted that the choice of Francis would not be greeted as a clear victory by conservatives,” since on “liturgical issues, he has opposed those who seek to roll back changes instituted by the Second Vatican Council.”

The picture that is forming of Pope Francis from all these bits and pieces is not that of a Ratzingerian restorationist but of a centrist prelate whose theological views, tone, and emphases are characteristic of the post-Vatican II period. He is no Hans Kung. He is too pro-life and Marian for that level of theological conjecture. But it is a stretch to think that he shares Benedict’s rigorous critique of the crisis within the Church and the modern world. There is a reason why the progressive bloc within the previous conclave saw him as a desirable alternative to Ratzinger.

It was telling that Pope Francis in his first address from the papal window pointed to Cardinal Walter Kasper as a theologian whom he admires. Kasper is known for his hyper-ecumenism and taste for theological novelty.

“We are on good terms with the Archbishop of Canterbury and as much as we can we are helping him to keep the Anglican community together,” Kasper said in 2010, referring to a group of disaffected conservative Anglicans that wanted to join the Catholic Church. “It’s not our policy to bring that many Anglicans to Rome.”

Apparently Kasper and Francis agreed on this issue. Greg Venable, an Anglican prelate in Latin America, has told the press that the future pope “called me to have breakfast with him one morning and told me very clearly that the Ordinariate was quite unnecessary and that the Church needs us as Anglicans.”

Francis has the benevolent and winning personality of John Paul II and the humility of Benedict (though his took a less celebrated form), but his theological views mark him out as more centrist than his two predecessors. They attributed the collapse of Catholic institutions largely to a misapplication of Vatican II. Referring to the liturgy, Benedict spoke of the need for a “reform of the reform.” Francis appears happy enough with the first reform.

Francis’s papacy may not so much move the Church into the future as back to the recent past, circa 1970. Quarrels over the proper interpretation of Vatican II are more likely to explode than end. Emboldened liberal bishops under him may seek a reform of the “reform of the reform,” and they may push for a revisiting of settled moral, theological, and disciplinary stances. None of this repositioning will take place at the level of official teaching but at the murkier levels of tone, emphasis, and appointment.

That the Catholic left considers his election a shot in the arm can’t be chalked up simply to projection. There are enough nuances here to give them hope. They believe that this is their moment to try to undo the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict and return to the casual, informal, and spontaneous liturgical spirit of the 1970s while reviving a more poll-friendly situational ethics. Tweeted Mahony: “Don’t you feel the new energy, and being shared with one another?”

Hans Kung accepts that Pope Francis can’t adapt to “everything” in the modern world, but just hopes the general trajectory of his pontificate will be progressive. In Pope Francis’s apparent emphasis on individual conscience (he dispensed with the traditional spoken papal blessing when speaking to journalists last Saturday on the grounds that some of them weren’t Catholic or believers), toned-down morality, and Seamless Garment-style prioritizing of poverty, peace, and the environment, Kung and company see a pope with whom they can at long last “dialogue.”

Editor’s note: This column was first published March 20, 2013 in The American Spectator and is reprinted with permission.

George Neumayr


George Neumayr is a contributing editor to The American Spectator, and a weekly columnist for Crisis Magazine. He is also co-author (with Phyllis Schlafly) of No Higher Power: Obama's War on Religious Freedom.

  • Reets46

    Very depressing… Is there any good news?

    • tlm_lover

      Yes, there is, but you will not find it in Mr. Neumayr’s article. Get the most recent copy of the NATIONAL CATHOLIC REGISTER, and be at peace. The Mahoney’ites and Kungetts are on their way out; there’s NO reason to care what they say, no less to quote it – odd Mr. Neumayr chose to do so.

      • tom

        Amen. Now, if we can only find bishops with both a good sense of humor and backbone to drag the garbage…all members of the Democrat Party… out to the curb.

    • tom

      Not until the Catholic bishops take a stand FOR Catholic Action instead of their inertia, peering into the clouds brought by Obama looking for a silver lining. Retire if you’re not up to the job, boys.

    • musicacre

      Maybe the good news is that whatever the Pope brings to his office, the Holy Spirit always guides and inspires….regardless of what attributes the public sees. The Holy Spirit sees into his heart and he now has a job (the Pope) that doesn’t compare with anything he’s done before. Hans Kung and and people like him are mistaken to think they can find a Pope that will obediently conform the church to the world. The church exists for the opposite reason.

  • Susan Varenne

    An endorsement by Hans Kung is not a blessing and I hope and pray that Pope Francis will not endorse the 1970’s liberalism that is fretting to reassert itself in the way the Church lives its moral life and celebrates its liturgy. Hopefully, Our Lady of Humility and Mary Who Unties the Knots–expressions of Francis’s devotion to the Mother of God–will guard him and keep him in the true spirit of Vatican II rather than that which was hijacked and expressed in the press. We need to recover a sense of sin and responsibility. Active homosexual behavior on the part of priests needs to be rooted out. Such behavior is a theft of holiness from the Church and practices fraud on the faithful who try to keep the Commandments. Francis needs to govern and lead. His sympathetic and loving outreach to people is most admirable, and his simplicity in life style is something we can all strive to imitate. But the center of moral and spiritual life–which St. Francis of Assisi and St. Ignatius heroically strove to uphold–must be the first order of business. There is no room for the narcissism of Kung or the slack consciences of those who think God will overlook everything and not hold them accountable.

    • tom

      Hans loves getting his name in print and will say anything to get it there. Hans has the same “Catholic” outlook as Barack Obama and Joe Biden.

  • Nathan718

    All worrisome enough, however Pope Francis does speak quite often of Satan, hardly a throwback to the 1970’s, even suggesting that homosexual marriage is from “the evil one.” In the end, the Holy Spirit will protect us from any error Francis may wish to teach, but as you suggested, we might see a (temporary) halt to the Reform of the Reform. While he might not (and this is still all conjecture) follow up the gains of BXVI, he won’t overturn Summorum or the ordinariate and he might be the perfect pope to give a shot in the arm, not to the Hans Kungs of the world, but to the 40% of the world’s Catholics that live in L. America. The Spirit knows what He us doing. Time will tell.

  • poetcomic1

    Hans Kung and his crowd are so excited at the return of the ‘future’ that they have soaked through their Depends.

  • NE-Catholic under siege

    I heard the news of the election of Pope Francis with some hope, anticipating that he would continue Benedict’s efforts to ratify and strengthen traditional Catholic values and beliefs. Embracing and allowing aggressively public advocates of Abortion like Pelosi and Biden to receive Holy Communion at his investiture – despite earlier statements against allowing such acts – was a warning sign and somewhat dismaying.

    And, I must admit that his first announcement in support of the Islamists (who are actively attacking, persecuting and killing Christians and Catholics in every Muslim country except the UAE) took me by surprise. But, I am willing to give him a chance to find his footing. If the quotes in Mr. Neumayr’s article turn out to be even partly correct – the future of the Roman Catholic Church appears to be very, very grim.Not that it will be destroyed but the rot from within will continue and faithful Catholics will continue to fight an uphill battle against an episcopacy dedicated to popularity.

    • joedecarlo

      The post-Vatican II clergy has lost its guts. I guarantee that pre-vatican II, Pelosi and Biden would have been refused communion.

  • lifeknight

    As a Latin Mass advocate, I am praying that nothing will stop the ever-growing movement to provide the TLM to the people. If the Pope is able to embrace Kung and his ilk, hopefully he will embrace those of us who appreciate a more traditional “celebration” of the most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

    • Joe DeCarlo

      The pope will not stop the TLM. It is growing in leaps and bounds. I also attend the TLM. We just had to add an addition onto the church.We have a 95% attendance rate, compared to most Novus Ordo masses,which have about 35%. I’ve been to a number of TLM’s and the churches are packed, especially with young people.

      • tlm_lover

        I agree w/Joe DeCarlo – nothing will stop the TLM. Nothing has stopped it so far. So “lifenight” don’t let anything take away your peace, especially this article by Mr. Neumayr – he’s off the mark. Be happy and hopeful.

    • Joe DeCarlo

      Last night, Holy Thursday, out TLM mass was so packed there was standing room only. It was a 2 hours celebration with such a beautiful ceremony. No, the TLM is not going anywhere. Check any TLM mass and the church is packed.

  • Jeff

    With Francis, I believe the very Catholic teaching of respect for conscience will return to the Catholic Church. As he said recently, “From my heart I impart this blessing, in silence, to each of you, respecting the conscience of each one but knowing that each of you is a child of God: May God bless you.” Beautiful and inspiring! Perhaps we are moving away from graceless, angry judgmental behavior and embracing love and grace. He has spoken of mercy, forgiveness, and the needs of the poor. All this is truly Christian and Christ-like.

    • Michael Paterson-Seymour

      What do you expect? As Bl John Henry Newman pointed out, “Did the Pope speak against Conscience in the true sense of the word, he would commit a suicidal act. He would be cutting the ground from under his feet. His very mission is to proclaim the moral law, and to protect and strengthen that “Light which enlighteneth every man that cometh into the world.” On the law of conscience and its sacredness are founded both his authority in theory and his power in fact… we shall find that it is by the universal sense of right and wrong, the consciousness of transgression, the pangs of guilt, and the dread of retribution, as first principles deeply lodged in the hearts of men, it is thus and only thus, that he has gained his footing in the world and achieved his success…”

    • And when on earth was Pope Benedict ever graceless or angry? The problem is rather that Pope John Paul, when he wasn’t dealing with communists, was a cream puff. I don’t mean that in a snide way; he just did not discipline the bishops. Nor did Pope Benedict. These spoiled brat dissenters have never MET a disciplinarian, like Pius XI.
      And I am sick of the silly false-dilemma, between the Church’s teachings on morality and her teachings on the poor. They are the same teachings. Want to help the poor? Clean up the open sewer. Restore some semblance of public morals. Stop pummeling the family into oblivion.

      • tom

        …and stop kissing Joe Biden’s arse, while you wink at Madam Pelosi! Place the garbage out on the curb.

      • Exactly. Jesus did not talk only about love and the poor. He took the whip to the moneychangers in the Temple and pointed out to Judas that we would always have the poor with us. He also said, “whoever has no sword is to sell his coat and buy one” – the actions and the words many self-styled Christians prefer to ignore. The “humble and meek” Jesus is only a half of the story and those who want to imitate him solely are, well, only half-Christian.

        • tom

          I imagine a just God is getting a bit pe’od at our weakling bishops. They’re not doing their job on the path to Calvary. They’ll need something more than an American Express card at the pearly gates when He asks what they did to defend Mother Church.

  • “The National Catholic Reporter approvingly quoted an unnamed Vatican diplomat as saying that “the Traditional Latin Mass brigade is finished.” No, my good sir, it will regroup and move elsewhere if necessary (that is, if the Truth will be no longer present in the Roman Church).

    • Rich Leonardi

      We generally call this sort of contingency “Protestantism.”

      • I call it “orthodoxy”.

        • Rock St. Elvis

          I call it “schism.”

          • So be it. I prefer God’s truth over human allegiances.

            • musicacre

              Let’s not go ointo panic mode. The Church is founded on the “rock” and will always have only one leader that is in succession with the others. That doesn’t mean they (the Popes) will never make mistakes or not be immoral. But we have the promise they will not error in truth and morals….and they never have. Period. Liturgy has undergone some bruising, but it is still there. Catholics have suffered through with the Church in the past when Popes made some bad decisions, but never, even those Popes, with truth and morals.

    • solly gratia

      There they go again, the Latin Massers thinking they are the only ones with ‘the truth’. We had the same arguments about how many hymns were allowed, and what form of words were correct for gospel invitations. And I thought I’d left that kind of dissent behind when I left the protestants to convert to the RC. I’ve unfollowed quite a few Latinists on facebook and twitter since the Pope was elected, with their abominable protestantism and schismatic talk. Get a life; indeed, get an apostalate.

      • tlm_lover

        I’m a TLM lover and happy about Pope Francis. So many people of good will spent weeks and weeks praying for the Cardinals before the Conclave, and the Holy Ghost answered our prayers. The Conclave isn’t a political body. Maybe Mr. Neumayr’s point of view is skewed by involvement in politics? I say to all, especially worried or unhappy TLM goers, “Sursum Corda!” trust, trust, trust, be happy and at peace. The “wet blanket”/negative/suspicious approach to things non-TLM is . . . . unattractive. God Bless.

      • musicacre

        Not all Latin Massers think the way you are describing; please don’t paint all people with one brush. I go to a Novo Ordus Mass, but travel further when I can to hear the traditional Mass. It breaks one’s heart to see the way some Bishops and priests were allowed to play fast and loose with the Liturgy in my area, and watch my own friends depart our religion because they saw Christ so disrespected and … mostly…ignored. We had clown Masses, dancing girls, priests giving homilies on their pet dogs for Easter, priests ordering Catholics not to kneel in the presence of Christ, because it was show-offy and immoral, etc. Many good articles have been shared on this site, and I think at least a few have explained the phenomena of Lex Orandi, Lex Crendendi. I have certainly seen friends and even family members go from a casual attitude (following the spirit of the differing liturgy styles) to not believing anymore at all, and not attending church. Everyone was so busy celebrating each other, they all forgot about Jesus Christ, and the great debt we owe. The Mass wasn’t focused on Him anymore, he was just part of the “program.” How sad is that?

    • The Truth will always be found in the Catholic Church, Roman and Eastern Rites that are faithful to the Holy Father. The gates of hell will not prevail against the Church because it IS the Church of Jesus Christ.

      • Properly understood, the Church is the community of the FAITHFUL, not just the earthly organization. The gates of hell can certainly prevail against the administrative structures in Rome but they will never prevail against the true Church, the community of saints. Would you still adhere to the Roman Catholic Church if the pope approved of abortion, or euthanasia, or homosexual sex? Would you then be “still faithful to the Holy Father”? Please don’t tell me that this can never happen because it certainly can.

        • Gigahoo

          Nonsense, the Pope is the rock of the church. The church will suffer but it will prervail. (recall the parable of the house built on sand and that built on rock).

          • So I’ll let you follow the pope while I follow the truth.

            • Gigahoo

              Your sad answer doesn’t make sense. Did I say I follow the Pope?
              Regarding your previous remarks. What is your definition of ‘saint’ — I assume your answer will explain why they are a community.
              I belong to the Catholic Church, the community of sinners, among whom are the saints, who, every one, seek to be close to the Pope in matters of faith and what is right and wrong.

  • h mantella

    if you insist on speaking for the “catholic left” then i will insist on speaking for the “catholic right.” the catholic right considers an abortion by an uneducated, poor woman a greater sin than the rape of a helpless infant by an ordained priest because the catholic right cares more about protecting authority than protecting the innocent from evil. the catholic right hides behind their pomp and circumstance and moral chest-beating because they are anything but moral behind closed doors. the catholic right are afraid of pope francis because he is a mirror held up to their sinfulness.

    • And who were the abusive priests, in large part? The conservatives? No — they were, most of them, the hipsters, the ones who accepted the cool new morality. I don’t overlook Cardinal Law, who I hope wears out his knees doing penance for his malfeasance in moving the predators around. But take a look at the vilest of the bishops — they were themselves suspect, a lot of them. Thank you, Catholic left. Thank you, New Directions in Sexuality. Check out that book — a good indicator of where the Catholic left was leaning, back in the 1970’s, when a lot of the abuse happened.

    • tom

      Bizarre! Murder is worse than rape, though both are intrinsically EVIL. So, on the bright side, you’re only half Evil.

  • cestusdei

    Hans thinks he himself is the pope.

    • musicacre

      No, he just wants the Popes to follow him…..

    • tom

      Right up until last call. Why legitimate theologians bother with the guy is anyone’s guess. It spreads scandal.

  • tlm_lover

    I think this article is incomplete. Who cares what Roger Cardinal Mahoney tweets? Who cares what Hans Kung says? More investigation on Mr. Neumayr’s part would have included that Fr. Fessio is happy with this election. Who do you believe: the Mahoney’ites/Kungettes or Fr. Fessio. I go with Fr. Fessio. Pope Francis was berated by his brother Jesuits for fighting against Liberation Theology, he battled the President of Argentina over same-gender marriage and abortion. At his Inaugural Mass, he did away with the presentation of the gifts – overjoyed he did so – the Mass isn’t a show (or showcase). The presentation of the gifts by “royally” clad people in traditional costumes is, quite frankly, distracting. This article is “half empty’ish;” it could easily have been otherwise.

  • NoreenD

    I hope you’re wrong.

    • tlm_lover

      He is on this one . . . very.

  • I can just hear the conservative sphincters tighten. But cheer up. The Church, by nature, is a conservative institution. I have lived through the reign of six popes, and now…Pope Francis. The only one who truly disappointed me was Paul VI, whose Humanae Vitae, however well meaning, was a catastrophe, a crab that got a pincer onto the robes of the hierarchy who can’t shake it off. Anyway, each pope, in his own way, left a strong mark on the Church. Now I wait in curiosity to see what Francis will do.

    • Reets46

      The catastrophe was not Humana Vitae, but the failure of bishops to teach authoritatively about contraception. When dissent arose, just after the encyclical was released, Cardinal O’Boyle of Washington DC was not backed up by the Vatican when he reprimanded priests who spoke openly against HV. This sent a signal to all bishops that the Vatican would not back them up if they used their authority to teach on this controversial subject. It opened the flood gates to a culture that was already promoting sex outside of marriage, homosexuality, and a just “anything goes” and a “do whatever feels good” philosophy. This, unfortunately, was the root cause of the sexual abuse scandals as the degraded culture of the late sixties became part of our seminaries.
      So the tragedy was the failure of Pope Paul VI to back up the Bishops… This is all discussed in detail in George Weigle’s book The Courage to be Catholic.
      I just hope Mr. Neumayr is wrong. We need a Pope who embraces all aspects of Catholic teaching and is not afraid to backup the good Bishops and reprimand the bad…in love, of course. I would love to see Mr. Esolen respond to this article with one of his own. Maybe discussing the “truce” of 1968.

    • Joe DeCarlo

      Didn’t Pope John Paul disappoint you will his kissing of the Koran and allowing other religions to worship their gods in the St. Francis church in Assisi?

      • tom

        Not in the least. It’s like “watching” a mime in total darkness. they’re spinning their wheels, at best. Francis and Clare would be amused, too. it might even make God chuckle.

        • Joe DeCarlo

          Funny? I call it sacreligious.

  • Reets46

    Just read Pope Francis’ Chrism Mass homily. Google it… It will put your mind and heart at peace after this most depressing article.

    • tlm_lover

      I agree. EWTN has been providing live broadcasting of all of Pope Francis’ Masses, meetings, addresses, blessings, etc., coming from Rome since his election. In addition, EWTN interviewed (the then) Jorge Cardinal Bergoglio sometime in February, 2013. Watch it. It might be helpful to read A PILGRIM’S JOURNEY: THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF IGNATIUS OF LOYOLA (Loyola and Tylenda); watch Living the Discerning Life: The Spiritual Teaching of St. Ignatius of Loyola (Gallagher, OMV); read ST. FRANCIS OF ASSISI (Chesterton). I think doing the above will provide even more “evidence” (if anyone needs it) that this article is . . . skewed.

      • musicacre

        Also, I get Vatican Information Service on my email every day. Just started! It’s excellent and comes straight from the Vatican with no journalistic commentary. It gives you an idea of just hos busy the new Pope is!

  • james

    Is this the same Hans Kung who has a life- size statue of himself in his own front yard? Sounds more like a North Korean ‘Hans il kung ‘ than a real and reasonable theologian.

  • musicacre

    Maybe the problem with this article and all articles like this is that the new Pope is being compared to so many people with whose styles we are familiar; ( and we are taking the usual peanut gallery commentators too seriously) which is a fair game for politics, or even sports, maybe. But this way of predicting and analyzing probably has no place in the Church; after all, the Cardinals who voted in JPII were sure he was a progressive on all counts. Boy were they wrong when they didn’t take into account his personal sanctity and humility. This type of analyzing is probably irrelevant in this arena of life. He (Pope Francis), is his own person, with his own characteristics, and some of those will even change or be enhanced as he becomes more and more, “the Servant of the servants of God.”

  • Madeline Philbrick

    Pope Francis concerns me and I pray that my fears are unnecessary. Our church has always been under attack. Nothing new there. I hope that Pope Francis’ words are merely being misinterpreted by liberal catholics and the outside world who salivate every time they think they see a glimmer of hope for their unholy agenda.