Pope Francis Is Tearing the Catholic Church Apart (2024)

by Michael Brendan Dougherty, published in the NY Times
Aug. 12, 2021

In the summer of 2001, I drove up to Poughkeepsie, N.Y., to find what we called “the traditional Latin Mass,” the form of Roman Catholic worship that stretched back centuries and was last authorized in 1962, before the Second Vatican Council changed everything. Back then, conservative Catholics called people who sought it out “schismatics” and “Rad Trads.”

The Mass-goers there weren’t exactly a community; we were a clandestine network of romantics, haters of Pope John Paul II, people who had been jilted by the mainstream church and — I believe — some saints.

There I learned that the Latin language was not the only distinguishing feature of this form of worship. The entire ritual was different from the post-Vatican II Mass. It wasn’t a mere translation into the modern vernacular; less than 20 percent of the Latin Mass survived into the new.

It took me a month to adapt to its rhythm. But in that thick August air, the long silence before the consecration of the Host fell upon my heart, like sunshine landing on the bud of prayer for the very first time.

Years later, Pope Benedict allowed devotees of this Mass to flourish in the mainstream of Catholic life, a gesture that began to drain away the traditional movement’s radicalism and reconcile us with our bishops. Today, it is celebrated in thriving parishes, full of young families.

Yet this Mass and the modestly growing contingent of Catholics who attend it are seen by Pope Francis as a grave problem. He recently released a document, Traditionis Custodes, accusing Catholics like us of being subversives. To protect the “unity” of the church, he abolished the permissions Pope Benedict XVI gave us in 2007 to celebrate a liturgy, the heart of which remains unchanged since the seventh century.

For those of us who travel long distances to participate in it, its perseverance is a religious duty. For the pope, its suppression is a religious priority. The ferocity of his campaign will push these young families and communities toward the radicalism I imbibed years ago in Poughkeepsie, before Benedict. It will push them toward the belief that the new Mass represents a new religion, one dedicated to the unity of man on earth rather than the love of Christ.

In the Latin Mass, the priest faces the altar with the people. It never had oddities, as you sometimes encounter in a modern Mass, like balloons, guitar music or applause. The gabby religious talk-show host style of priest is gone. In his place, a priest who does his business quietly, a workmanlike sculptor. By directing the priest toward the drama at the altar, the old Mass opens up space for our own prayer and contemplation.

In the years after Pope Benedict liberalized the old rite, parishes began to bring back the mystical tones of Gregorian chant, the sacred polyphony written by long-dead composers like Orlando Lassus and Thomas Tallis as well as contemporary composers like Nicholas Wilton and David Hughes.

These cultural offshoots of the Latin Mass are why, after Vatican II, the English novelists Agatha Christie and Nancy Mitford and other British cultural luminaries sent a letter to Pope Paul VI asking that it continue. Their letter doesn’t even pretend to be from believing Christians. “The rite in question, in its magnificent Latin text, has also inspired a host of priceless achievements in the arts — not only mystical works, but works by poets, philosophers, musicians, architects, painters and sculptors in all countries and epochs. Thus, it belongs to universal culture as well as to churchmen and formal Christians.”

But the Vatican Council had called for a revision of every aspect of the central act of worship, so the altar rails, tabernacles and baldachins were torn up in countless parishes. This ferment was accompanied by radical new theologies around the Mass. A freshman religious studies major would know that revising all the vocal and physical aspects of a ceremony and changing the rationale for it constitutes a true change of religion. Only overconfident Catholic bishops could imagine otherwise.

The most candid progressives agreed with the radical traditionalists that the council constituted a break with the past. They called Vatican II “a new Pentecost” — an “Event” — that had given the church a new self-understanding. They believed their revolution had been stalled in 1968 when Pope Paul VI issued “Humanae Vitae,” affirming the church’s opposition to artificial contraception, and then put it on ice in 1978 with the election of Pope John Paul II.

To stamp out the old Latin Mass, Pope Francis is using the papacy in precisely the way that progressives once claimed to deplore: He centralizes power in Rome, usurps the local bishop’s prerogatives and institutes a micromanaging style that is motivated by paranoia of disloyalty and heresy. Perhaps it’s to protect his deepest beliefs.

Pope Francis envisions that we will return to the new Mass. My children cannot return to it; it is not their religious formation. Frankly, the new Mass is not their religion. In countless alterations, the belief that the Mass was a real sacrifice and that the bread and wine, once consecrated, became the body and blood of our Lord was downplayed or replaced in it. With the priest facing the people, the altar was severed from the tabernacle. The prescribed prayers of the new Mass tended never even to refer to that structure anymore as an altar but as the Lord’s table. The prayers that pointed to the Lord’s real presence in the sacrament were conspicuously replaced with ones emphasizing the Lord’s spiritual presence in the assembled congregation.

The prayers of the traditional Mass emphasized that the priest was re-presenting the same sacrifice Christ made at Calvary, one that propitiated God’s wrath at sin and reconciled humanity to God. The new Mass portrayed itself as a narrative and historical remembrance of the events recalled in Scripture, and the offering and sacrifice was not of Christ, but of the assembled people, as the most commonly used Eucharistic prayer in the new Mass says, “from age to age you gather a people to Thyself, in order that from east to west a perfect offering may be made.”

For Catholics, how we pray shapes what we believe. The old ritual physically aims us toward an altar and tabernacle. In that way it points us to the cross and to heaven as the ultimate horizon of man’s existence. By doing so, it shows that God graciously loves us and redeems us despite our sins. And the proof is in the culture this ritual produces. Think of Mozart’s great rendition of faith in the Eucharist: “Ave Verum Corpus” (Hail True Body).

The new ritual points us toward a bare table, and it consistently posits the unity of humankind as the ultimate horizon of our existence. In the new Mass, God owes man salvation, because of the innate dignity of humanity. Where there was faith, now presumption. Where there was love, now mere affirmation, which is indistinguishable from indifference. It inspires weightless ditties like “Gather Us In.” Let’s sing about us!

I believe the practice of the new Mass forms people to a new faith: To become truly Christian, one must cease to be Christian at all. Where the new faith is practiced with a zealous spirit — as in Germany now — bishops and priests want to conform the religion’s teaching to the moral norms of the nonbelieving society around them. When the new faith was young, after the council, it expressed itself in tearing up the statues, the ceremonies and religious devotions that existed before.

I don’t know if bishops will adopt Francis’ zeal to crush the Latin Mass. I don’t know how painful they are willing to make our religious life. If they do, they will create — or reveal — more division in the church. The old slogan of the traditional Latin Mass movement comes to mind: We resist you to the face.

I have faith that one day, even secular historians will look upon what was wrought after Vatican II and see it for what it was: the worst spasm of iconoclasm in the church’s history — dwarfing the Byzantine iconoclasm of the ninth century and the Protestant Reformation.

Pope Benedict had temporarily allowed us to begin repairing the damage. What Pope Francis proposes with his crackdown is a new cover-up.

Pope Francis Is Tearing the Catholic Church Apart (2024)


Is Pope Francis changing the Catholic Church? ›

Francis has pushed the boundaries of Catholic practice, and conservatives have pushed back. Within the Church, Francis has opened the door slightly to divorced and remarried Catholics to receive communion. And he's making the Church less Vatican-centric, says Politi, delegating more decisions to bishops.

Which pope quit the Catholic Church? ›

The most recent pope to resign was Benedict XVI, who vacated the Holy See on 28 February 2013, the date of his effective resignation. He was the first pope to do so since Gregory XII in 1415.

Who caused the split from the Catholic Church? ›

King Henry VIII's break with the Catholic Church is one of the most far-reaching events in English history. During the Reformation, the King replaced the Pope as the Head of the Church in England, causing a bitter divide between Catholics and Protestants.

Why is Pope Francis banning the Latin Mass? ›

Francis said at the time that he was acting to preserve church unity, saying the spread of the Tridentine Mass had become a source of division and been exploited by Catholics opposed to the Second Vatican Council, the 1960s meetings that modernized the church and its liturgy.

Is Pope Francis a real Catholic? ›

He was ordained a Catholic priest in 1969, and from 1973 to 1979 was the Jesuit provincial superior in Argentina. He became the Archbishop of Buenos Aires in 1998 and was created a cardinal in 2001 by Pope John Paul II. He led the Argentine Church during the December 2001 riots in Argentina.

Who is the favorite to replace Pope Francis? ›

Either Pope Gregory or Pope Benedict could be the successor to Pope Francis. These two names are at the top of the list, although with weaker chances. 16 popes have chosen Gregory, three of whom were later canonized as saints. Benedict has been selected almost as often, with 15 popes assuming the name.

Do popes get paid? ›

Popes usually get paid hendsomely, the current wage he gets is $32,000 on a monthly basis but he refused to get any of that money. Instead, Pope Francis decided to either donate this money to the church, use it to endow a foundation, placed in trust or pass it on to a family member.

Why is the pope buried in three coffins? ›

The body of a deceased Pope is a barrier in three coffins that all fit inside one another. The first layer is a coffin made of cypress wood. Here, the coins of his pontificate will be introduced, as well as the pallium and a text that summarizes his work as Pope. The latter object will be installed in a metal cylinder.

Do Protestants reject the pope? ›

Protestants are opposed to the Roman Catholic doctrine of papal supremacy. Protestant Christians argue that the tradition of the See of Rome's primacy in the early Church was not equivalent to the current doctrine of supremacy.

Which pope had a child? ›

Popes who were legally married
Adrian II867–872Yes (a daughter)
John XVII1003Yes (three sons)
Clement IV1265–1268Yes (two daughters)
Honorius IV1285–1287Yes (at least two sons)
3 more rows

What is the difference between Catholic and Roman Catholic? ›

It includes most of the Catholics in the Western world. A Roman Catholic is a Catholic who is a member of the Roman rite. There are many Catholics in the East who are not Roman Catholics, such as Maronite Catholics, Ukrainian Catholics, and Chaldean Catholics.

Is the royal family Catholic or Protestant? ›

Contrary to popular belief, the royal family is not Catholic. We repeat, they are not Catholic. The royals are in fact the head of the Church of England, which is a Protestant Anglican church, and they've been a part of this religion since the 16th century.

What language does the pope say Mass in? ›

Latin is used for most papal Masses in Rome, but the local vernacular has been used with increasing frequency in recent decades, especially when the pope is abroad. However, in the last years of his pontificate Pope Benedict XVI always used Latin for the Eucharistic Prayer when celebrating Mass abroad.

Is the Tridentine Mass valid? ›

Sometimes the term "Tridentine Mass" is applied restrictively to Masses in which the final 1962 edition of the Tridentine Roman Missal is used, the only edition still authorized, under certain conditions, as an extraordinary form of the Roman Rite Mass.

Why did the Catholic Church get rid of Latin Mass? ›

The change follows a ruling last year in which Pope Francis severely limited the use of the old rite, in a move he said was meant to increase global unity among the faithful. He suggested then that those who preferred the Latin Mass were using it to reinforce ideological divisions within the church.

What do Catholics think of the current pope? ›

Even larger shares of U.S. Catholics see the pope as compassionate (94%) and humble (91%), exactly the same as in 2015, the last time we asked about these attributes.

What kind of Catholic is Pope Francis? ›

Francis is the first Jesuit pope. Jesuits are followers of The Society of Jesus, an order of the Catholic Church formed in the 16th century. Typically Jesuits have reputations for scholarship — they run prestigious schools throughout the world — and evangelicalism, in the form of missionaries.

Does Pope Francis have a child? ›

No, Pope Francis does not have any children.

Who did the pope apologize for? ›

Pope Francis said he was “deeply sorry” for more than a century of abuses that First Nations, Métis and Inuit children endured in Catholic-run residential schools in Canada.

Who was the beat pope? ›

Pope Boniface VIII - Wikipedia.

Who is the most influential pope? ›

As pope, Innocent III began with a very wide sense of his responsibility and of his authority. During Innocent III's reign, the papacy was at the height of its powers. He was considered to be the most powerful person in Europe at the time.

Does the Pope get his balls checked? ›

A cardinal would have the task of putting his hand up the hole to check whether the pope had testicl*s, or doing a visual examination. This procedure is not taken seriously by most historians, and there is no documented instance.

What is the salary of a cardinal? ›

Of the roughly 5,000 people employed in the Roman Curia, the administrative institutions of the Holy See, and in Vatican City State, cardinals have the highest monthly salaries, varying from 4,000 to 5,000 euros, or about $4,700 to $5,900, according to Mimmo Muolo, the author of the 2019 book “The Church's Money.” The ...

What is the salary of the Pope Benedict? ›

The pope emeritus, as he is now known, receives a monthly pension of 2,500 euros. That's currently equivalent to around $2,800, though at the time of his retirement CNBC reported it was closer to $3,300 per month.

Who can wear white to meet the Pope? ›

Those who are at present permitted to wear white garments include the Queens of Spain and Belgium, the Grand duch*ess of Luxembourg and the Princess of Monaco, in summary those royal houses whose regents had been given the title of "(Most) Catholic Majesty" (Rex catholicissimus).

What happens to popes body after death? ›

Immediately following death

Before he alerts the Church or the public of the death, he will stand over the papal body and call the Popes baptismal name out three times. Only when there is no response to the calls is the Pope pronounced dead. From here the body remains mostly untouched.

Which pope's body is on display in the Vatican? ›

No pope has ever definitively said the bones are the remains of St. Peter, but in 1968 Pope Paul VI said the bones found underneath St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican had been "identified in a way that we can consider convincing."

Where in the Bible does it say the Catholic Church is the one true church? ›

Their doctrine of the one true church, based on Matthew 16:18 and other Scriptures, emphasizes the succession of true doctrine, practice, and teachers through the centuries, and the authority of the church under Christ.

Why do Protestants not use crucifix? ›

In addition, some Protestants read literally the Second Commandment of Exodus 20, which prohibits making graven images. They believed a depiction of any human form is idolatrous. Crucifixes, therefore, disappeared from Protestant sanctuaries.

Can a pope apologize? ›

Papal apologies may not say everything, but they do say something important. As the head of the Roman Catholic Church and a world leader, the pope apologizes both to the church and on behalf of the church to the world. These apologies are necessary starting points on the path to forgiveness and healing.

Which pope fathered a child with his daughter? ›

Pope Alexander VI
Died18 August 1503 (aged 72) Rome, Papal States
BuriedSanta Maria in Monserrato degli Spagnoli, Rome
NationalityAragonese – Spanish
DenominationCatholic Church
19 more rows

Which pope had a relationship with his daughter? ›

Alexander's besotted devotion to his beautiful daughter gave rise to whispers of unnatural practices, and Rome was scandalized by Alexander's leaving Lucrezia in charge of the Vatican while he toured papal fortifications.

Which pope had a girlfriend? ›

Pope John Paul II had an intimate 32-year relationship with a Polish philosopher who is believed to have once declared her love to him while he was still a cardinal, according to letters discovered by the BBC.

Why do Catholics pray to Mary? ›

Catholics do not pray to Mary as if she were God. Prayer to Mary is memory of the great mysteries of our faith (Incarnation, Redemption through Christ in the rosary), praise to God for the wonderful things he has done in and through one of his creatures (Hail Mary) and intercession (second half of the Hail Mary).

Are Mexicans Roman Catholic? ›

Mexico does not have an official religion. However, Roman Catholicism is the dominant faith and deeply culturally pervasive. It is estimated over 80% of the population identifies as Catholic. Many Mexicans see Catholicism as part of their identity, passed on through the family and nation like cultural heritage.

What makes Catholicism different than Christianity? ›

Broadly, Roman Catholicism differs from other Christian churches and denominations in its beliefs about the sacraments, the roles of the Bible and tradition, the importance of the Virgin Mary and the saints, and the papacy.

Is Queen Camilla a Catholic? ›

Both children were brought up in their father's Roman Catholic faith, particularly during the lifetime of their paternal grandmother Ann Parker Bowles; Camilla remained an Anglican and did not convert to Roman Catholicism.

Is Queen Elizabeth related to Jesus? ›

In Sunni Islamic reports of al-Tabari and al-Masudi, Elizabeth is said to have been a daughter of Imran, and thus, a sister of Mary. Therefore, their children Jesus (Isa) and John (Yahya) are believed to have been cousins.

What religion was Jesus? ›

He was born of a Jewish mother, in Galilee, a Jewish part of the world. All of his friends, associates, colleagues, disciples, all of them were Jews. He regularly worshipped in Jewish communal worship, what we call synagogues. He preached from Jewish text, from the Bible.

Why do the popes wear red shoes? ›

The indoor Papal slippers were made of red velvet or silk and were heavily decorated in gold braid, with a gold cross in the middle. Throughout Church history, the color red has been deliberately chosen to represent the blood of Catholic martyrs spilled through the centuries following in the footsteps of Christ.

Can you wear jeans at the Vatican? ›

The Vatican has a dress code that some travellers might not be aware of when visiting. Luckily if you're planning on wearing jeans to the Vatican, you definitely can! When you plan to visit, it's best to keep your knees and shoulders covered. And for footwear, you will need flat shoes, not flip-flops or casual sandals.

What does the Pope do all day? ›

DAILY ROUTINE: Francis rises on his own at around 4:30 a.m. and spends the next two hours praying, meditating on the Scripture readings for the day and preparing his morning homily. He delivers it off-the-cuff at the 7 a.m. Mass in the chapel of the Vatican's Santa Marta hotel where he lives.

Did Pope Francis get rid of Latin Mass? ›

VATICAN CITY, Feb 21 (Reuters) - Pope Francis on Tuesday further tightened the screws on Catholic conservatives over the use of traditional Latin Mass, rebuking bishops who had allowed it to be said in parishes without previous permission from the Vatican.

Why did Pope Francis cancel Latin Mass? ›

Francis said at the time that he was acting to preserve church unity, saying the spread of the Tridentine Mass had become a source of division and been exploited by Catholics opposed to the Second Vatican Council, the 1960s meetings that modernized the church and its liturgy.

Can any priest celebrate the Latin Mass? ›

Any priest ordained after the issuance of the new norms who wishes to celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass must submit a formal request to their bishop, and the bishop in turn will consult with the Vatican before granting permission.

When did the Catholic Church start worshiping on Sunday? ›

Edict of Constantine

On 3 March 321, Constantine I decreed that Sunday (dies Solis) will be observed as the Roman day of rest [CJ3. 12.2]:

What does Pope Francis think of the Latin Mass? ›

Pope Francis said he implemented one of the changes of Traditionis custodes, the 2021 motu proprio restricting the celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass, because the allowances granted by his predecessors were “being used in an ideological way.”

Why the church is losing Latin America? ›

The reasons for this shift are complex, including political changes that reduced the Catholic Church's advantages over other religions, as well as growing secularization in much of the world.

How did St Francis change the church? ›

Francis of Assisi changed the Catholic Church in a number of ways. St. Francis organized the first live nativity, created numerous new religious orders, was the first to preach about animals, and, in his honor, people bless animals on his Feast Day.

Does the pope have power over the church? ›

The pope, as bishop of Rome, is thus seen to have full and supreme power of jurisdiction over the universal church in matters of faith and morals, as well as in church discipline and government.

How did the Vatican change the church? ›

Opening The Church

No new dogma was issued, but the council transformed the church from an exclusive to an inclusive institution. Before the Second Vatican Council, altars were turned so the priests celebrated Mass with their backs facing the congregation.

How has the Catholic Church changed since Vatican II? ›

In accordance with Vatican II, the Roman Catholic Church officially abandoned its “one true church” position and formally ended the thousand-year schism with the Greek Orthodox Church. It also entered into ecumenical conversations with other churches with the hope of establishing greater Christian unity.

What church did Francis rebuild? ›

Afterwards Saint Francis took action to physically repair the structure of the San Damiano church, although he eventually realized that God's message to him was to restore the entire Catholic Church as a whole body rather than literally repair one stone structure.

Why do Catholics pray to St. Francis? ›

Believers pray for justice, for peace and for the environment, including The Prayer of St Francis. The Prayer of St Francis is a prayer for peace. In a world often troubled by war and violence, it calls us to be instruments of Christ's peace and love (CLPS24).

Why is St. Francis still important today? ›

Even today, the followers of Francis, both lay and religious, dedicate themselves to being poor and to serving the poor, living according to the Gospel of Jesus, relating to all persons as brothers and sisters, and recognizing God's presence within themselves and in all of creation.

Why don t Protestants like the Pope? ›

Protestants are opposed to the Roman Catholic doctrine of papal supremacy. Protestant Christians argue that the tradition of the See of Rome's primacy in the early Church was not equivalent to the current doctrine of supremacy.

Does the Pope get paid? ›

Popes usually get paid hendsomely, the current wage he gets is $32,000 on a monthly basis but he refused to get any of that money. Instead, Pope Francis decided to either donate this money to the church, use it to endow a foundation, placed in trust or pass it on to a family member.

Do Catholic indulgences still exist? ›

Today, Catholics may seek indulgences for dead relatives in the same way they seek indulgences for themselves. But they are then limited to praying that Christ or the saints intervene on behalf of their loved ones so that these indulgences may count toward reduced punishment.

How many priests left after Vatican II? ›

More obviously apparent was the loss of priests. In the 10 years after the council 100,000 men left the priesthood worldwide. Once the walls of custom and reverence that had surrounded them were broken, there seemed nothing to keep them in.

How did the Vatican become so rich? ›

The Holy See is the governing body of the nation and generates money through donations; it then invests a portion of that money in stocks, bonds, and real estate. Vatican City generates revenue through museum admissions and the sale of coins, stamps, and publications.

Why did nuns leave after Vatican 2? ›

Vatican II called for intense self-examination and renewal among the sisterhood. As a result, some religious quit their convents because their communities were changing too fast. Some, like Sister Martell, left because their communities weren`t changing fast enough.

What are two major changes the Catholic Church? ›

Among the noteworthy ones were those that changed the way the church worshipped. The altar, for example, was turned around to face the people. Mass was changed to be in the vernacular, no longer in Latin.

What good has the Catholic Church done? ›

The Catholic Church has been the driving force behind some of the major events of world history including the Christianization of Western and Central Europe and Latin America, the spreading of literacy and the foundation of the universities, hospitals, the Western tradition of monasticism, the development of art and ...

When did Catholic Mass stop being in Latin? ›

The Tridentine Mass, established by Pope Pius V in 1570, was banned in 1963 by the Second Vatican Council of 1962- 65 in an effort to modernize the Roman Catholic liturgy and allow more participation and understanding of the mass by the congregation.


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