Pope Francis Demands Absolute Obedience

Pope Francis is thought of as kindly and avuncular – almost the opposite of his predecessor Pope Benedict. His choice of the name Francis, a first in papal history, highlights his humility. Shortly after his election, he arranged many photo-ops where he washed feet and otherwise emphasized his humble nature. He smiled constantly, and exuded sweetness.

This impression has lasted, though the pope largely abandoned such acts of public humility some time ago. Prior to his election, Bergoglio had a very different image. Before becoming a priest, he was a bouncer in a bar. When he became head of Argentina’s Jesuits, he was known as a harsh authoritarian (here): “He exercised his authority as provincial with an iron fist, calmly demanding strict obedience and clamping down on critical voices. Many Jesuits complained that he considered himself the sole interpreter of St Ignatius of Loyola, and to this day speak of him warily.”

John Allen, long-time Vatican correspondent and current editor of CRUX, spent a week in Argentina investigating Pope Francis after his election (here): “it’s clear that despite the insta-hagiography that always surrounds a new pope, Bergoglio was hardly a cultural icon in Argentina before his election. He kept a low profile, and many Argentines say they’re getting to know him only now along with the rest of the world.” Ironically, shortly after this, Mr. Allen wrote an “insta-hagiography” of Francis – The Francis Miracle. Other Argentinian observers have reported that Bergoglio had no friends, and kept his opinions to himself.

 

From Kid Gloves to Iron Fist

Recently, Pope Francis has been anything but humble and avuncular. Perhaps he is reverting to form. He has threatened over 500 priests in an African parish with a form of defrocking - separation a divinis – that is more severe than that used to punish child abusers. The supposedly kindly, avuncular pope is demanding absolute obedience of these priests - and demanding written proof of their absolute obedience within 30 days – or threatening them with about the harshest punishment at his disposal short of excommunication. (Here for brief coverage.) What’s going on? What crime have all the priests in this parish committed that is worse than sexually abusing children?

Pope Francis has written a letter explaining his actions, which I will address more fully in a subsequent article. But his first reason, his top priority, is this: “1.One must clearly manifest total obedience to the Pope.” In the eyes of Pope Francis and the Catholic Church, failure to show total obedience to the pope – abject obedience – is worse than raping children. This is the kind of despotism usually associated with Stalin or Mao. Nor is this a just a psychotic episode. It is written in Canon Law, and has long been the official policy of the Catholic Church, the beacon of morality guided by the Holy Spirit.

What does the Media say about this?

As far as I can tell, the mass media have said absolutely nothing about it. If Pope Francis announced a PR trip to the U.S., there would be a ton of coverage, and nearly everyone would know about it. Most people would probably hear more about it than they’d care to. But Pope Francis’ demand for total obedience from 500 priests, in writing, or else - is major news, unprecedented in modern history, yet ignored. Amazingly, even RNS, the Religion News Service, the leading religious source for general media, has failed to cover this story. Only some Catholic services have covered it – briefly and defensively.

I’ll get into some of the details in a future article. By the way, the Pope’s 30-day deadline is almost due as I write this.