Bishops from across the United States are meeting in Baltimore this week. The number one item on the agenda was to deal with the sex scandals plaguing the Church. The bishops were supposed to come up with new codes of conduct, and, most importantly, develop a lay-led group to investigate corruption and scandal in the hierarchy. And then, right as they were set to begin, Pope Francis put a stop to it. Orders came from the Vatican yesterday to suspend voting on any new measures. Apparently, Francis wants to wait until February. Then perhaps he will want to wait until June. Then I guess we might as well wait until the Second Coming.
It is important to see this latest act of obstruction by the Vatican in context. But it is a context that makes the Vatican look even worse, not better. The media have long since forgotten, but we should not forget, that Pope Francis was credibly accused of covering for one of the worst sex predators in the clergy, Cardinal McCarrick. The accuser, Archbishop Vigano, a former high-ranking Vatican official, has since written two more letters elaborating on his claims. Far from backing away from his allegations, he has doubled and then tripled down on them. And yet the Pope has still, to this day, offered no substantive response to the claims made against him. He has largely ignored the whole controversy, except to call his accusers Satan and admonish anyone who would dare demand answers or clarity on this subject.
Pope Francis was sold as a reformer. "The Great Reformer," according to a biography published in 2014. It is clear now that "Francis the Reformer" was a myth. The real man has no interest in reforming anything. On the contrary, he is a defender of the status quo. That's what this McCarrick business was all about. McCarrick, sent into exile by Benedict, was rescued from obscurity and reinstalled into a position of power and influence.
We are told that Francis is oriented towards the future. I see little evidence of this. It's true that Francis has little affection for the most ancient traditions of the Church. Infamously, he spat in the face of young Catholics who prefer the Latin Mass, calling them "rigid" and "insecure." He has also upended 2,000 years of Church teaching on the death penalty, declaring that the Church (and apparently God Himself in the Old Testament) had been ignorant, narrow-minded, and unjust for all those years. But this does not make him a forward-thinking reformer. It makes him a man stuck in his own time and place. He sees the way the Church has operated for the last few decades and wishes to remain on that same track. He is a conservative in the sense that he wishes to conserve the Catholicism of his generation. He does not want to go back to how things were, but he does want them to stay basically as they are.
That is not the approach of a reformer. It's not even progressive. Indeed, you might call it rigid.