|Some folks need no introduction.|
No doubt some of those who elected Pope Francis were hoping that having a pope from the region would help.
It has not.
Why is this happening? After all, in other parts of the “global South,” the Catholic Church is growing.
The explanation has to be Liberation Theology. It is almost as soon as it appeared that the numbers started to drop. It can almost be dated precisely. The term “Liberation Theology” was coined in 1971. The connection seems to be tight and profound.
Notably, it is the poor who have been repelled by Liberation Theology. They have been leaving for Pentecostal and Evangelical forms of Protestantism. They tell pollsters the main reason is that these denominations have a clear moral message. But interestingly, the Evangelicals, and more traditional or Charismatic Catholics, also turn out to actually do more for the poor than the Liberation Theology congregations: more help with practical problems like alcoholism, finding a job, food for the hungry—you know, the charity thing. Where Liberation Theology has held sway, these things have declined, along with the numbers.
It seems to me this parallels what has happened with the United Church in Canada. They dropped their religious concerns and went in for “social justice.” And their pews have been emptying ever since. Anyone religious has lost their home.
This is especially worrying because it looks to me as though the selection of Pope Francis, rather than bringing new life to Latin American Catholicism, has brought the virus of Liberation Theology to the universal church. He has imported the basic attitude to Rome.
Francis is not, himself, a Liberation theologian. However, the issue is not leftist politics in itself; leftist politicians do well, on the whole, in Latin America. The problem is the more basic one of ignoring or downplaying doctrine in favour of “pastoral” considerations. Which are not really pastoral considerations, but what is sometimes called “virtue signalling”: replacing deeds with words. Which is, of course, easier and more comfortable for those in authority. They can feel good about themselves without the obligation to actually do good. Signing up for a particular political stance exempts you from the burden of good deeds.
Latin Americans have been leaving the Church, they attest, due to a lack of moral guidance; and that is exactly my rap against Pope Francis. He keeps fudging and confusing moral doctrine. The premise is no doubt that people will all feel better if they are just reassured that whatever they are doing is fine.
But this is not what people need a church or a religion for; and this is not even what people want.
Notably, lots of people are upset at Francis's introduction and promotion of ambiguity on the question of divorce and remarriage, and on who can receive the sacraments. He has turned out to be terrible on the issue of clerical sexual abuse, wanting to deny and look the other way.
His latest idea, that of declaring capital punishment immoral and unjustifiable under all circumstances, is a further step along this road. It has no practical consequences: the Church already taught that capital punishment cannot be justified in a modern state. It becomes a problem for Catholics who actually care about morality, because it is quite possible to imagine situations in which capital punishment might be a practical necessity; in, for example, times of mass panic, insurrection, or war.
In the meantime, everyone is able to seize on this and say, “See! Catholic doctrine can change. It's just a matter of opinion. So let's have female priests, and stop saying homosexuality or abortion is sinful, and ...” So much for the church's moral authority.
So why would Francis do this, other than “virtue signalling,” playing to the political galleries? Being against capital punishment is here a surrogate for being a moral person. You are against killing people. What a fine chap you must be to think that! And it costs you nothing.
I've given Pope Francis the benefit of the doubt. I think I can no longer. His pontificate is turning into a disaster.
Pope John Paul II was selected from a part of the world where Catholicism was especially vibrant. He brought that vibrancy. Pope Francis was selected from a part of the world where Catholicism was collapsing. He brought the attitudes that caused that collapse.