Holy Smoke

Is 2023 Pope Francis’s ‘Year Zero’?

33 min listen

In This Episode

Conservative Catholic critics of Pope Francis are referring to 2023 as his ‘Year Zero’ – a time of revolutionary upheaval initiated by an 86-year-old pontiff who feels liberated by the death of his predecessor Benedict XVI on New Year’s Eve. 

Events are moving fast. This October, the world’s bishops will gather for a synod in which left-wing lay activists have been given an advisory vote by the Pope and permission to discuss ultra-sensitive topics such as women’s ordination and blessings for same-sex couples. 

It’s true that Francis has rejected attempts by the ultra-progressive (and ultra-empty) German church to pursue a liberal Protestant agenda without reference to Rome. That’s not surprising: one largely unreported feature of this pontificate is an extreme concentration of power in the papal office. Any alterations to Church teaching and pastoral practice will be initiated by Francis alone – and he has a distinctive modus operandi. Rather than proposing specific changes, he rarely misses an opportunity to undermine the historic guardians of orthodoxy.

Now he has taken a dramatic and irreversible step. In the past, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, now renamed the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, has had the job of protecting the Church from heresy and other theological misjudgements. But at the beginning of July the Pope handed control of this doctrinal watchdog to his Argentinian protégé Archbishop (soon to be Cardinal) Victor Manuel Fernandez. And he did so with the instruction that Fernandez should shift its emphasis from rooting out error to more creative endeavours. 

Fernandez needed no encouragement. Even before taking office, he has mothballed a ban on same-sex blessings that was issued as recently as 2021 and was assumed to have Francis’s full support. In an interview marking his appointment, Fernandez said that ‘if a blessing is given in such a way that it does not cause that confusion [i.e., does not appear to be a gay wedding], it will have to be analysed and confirmed.’

What on earth does that mean? You can see why Fernandez’s appointment has alarmed conservative Catholics more than anything else Francis has done, and that includes his notoriously savage restrictions on the celebration of the Latin Mass. The Pope himself describes it as a ‘turning point’. 

In this week’s Holy Smoke I discuss the possible consequences with the moral theologian Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith. He shares my view that an earthquake has hit the Catholic Church – but he also asks: given the indifference of so many Catholics to matters of doctrine, have they even noticed? 


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