July 17, 2021 (Steven O’Reilly) – Yesterday, Pope Francis issued Traditionis Custodes, his motu proprio which places significant restrictions on the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM) going forward. I will not comment in great detail on its harsh measures as others have already done so. However, for the ‘pope of mercy’ who speaks often of those on the ‘peripheries’ of the Church, it is clear neither his mercy nor the peripheries extend as far as those attached to the TLM.
One of the oddities of Traditionis Custodes is not so much that Francis did what he did; but rather it is when he did it. That is, he did not wait until the death of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI before attempting to abrogate Summorum Pontificum. I suspect we would have seen something like Traditionis Custodes long ago had Benedict passed away soon after stepping down from the Chair of St. Peter. That Pope Francis could no longer wait for Benedict’s death to issue TC, along with the fact the motu proprio went into effect immediately, clearly suggests an impatience or urgency on the part of Francis.
Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernandez is said to be very close to Pope Francis, e.g., reportedly being the Pope’s ghostwriter for various documents, such as Amoris Laetitia. There is something he said a few years ago that seems to explain the impatience and urgency noted above. Archbishop Fernandez has been quoted as saying the following (emphasis added):
“The slow pace is necessary to insure the effectiveness of the changes… You have to realize that he (Francis) is aiming at reform that is irreversible. If one day he should sense that he is running out of time and doesn’t have enough time to do what the spirit is asking him, you can be sure he will speed up.” (Crisis Magazine. “Clerical Machiavellians with Magical Beliefs“, William Kilpatrick, 11/06/2018)
Consequently, perhaps what we are seeing is that Pope Francis, now 84, ‘senses that he is running out of time‘ and therefore he is ‘speeding up.’ Francis wants to hurry to make changes or ‘reform’ which will be “irreversible.” This idea of Francis wanting to make “irreversible change” also shows up in words of Fr. Adolfo Nicolas, former Superior General of the Jesuits, of whom Phil Lawler once wrote:
“Father Adolfo Nicolas, the former worldwide leader of the Jesuit order, reported that Pope Francis once told him that he hoped to remain as Pontiff until “the changes are irreversible” (see ‘The new cardinals: Pope Francis bids for ‘irreversible change’, Phil Lawler, September 3, 2019).
As far as other attempts at “irreversible” change, only Francis and Heaven knows what is next on his chopping block. Francis has already endeavored to improve the odds his changes are irreversible through his episcopal appointments, and even more importantly through the cardinals he has created over the course of his pontificate. More on that in a bit.
“Four or Five Years“
In researching some of the quotes for the article, there was a curious thing that caught my attention. The Pope has said in various places he expected his pontificate to brief, perhaps “four or five years.” Consider, for example (emphasis added):
In an interview with the Mexican broadcaster Televisa published Friday, the Argentine Pope predicted a “brief” tenure for himself. “I have the feeling that my pontificate will be brief: four or five years; I do not know, even two or three,” Pope Francis, 78, said. “Two have already passed. It is a somewhat vague sensation.” (Time Magazine)
Pope Bergoglio has opined a few times his pontificate would be brief, perhaps “four or five years.” This mention of “four or five years,” plus the fact his closest comrades say he wanted “irreversible change” is something very curious, as it echoes precisely a talking point intended to sell his candidacy just before the 2013 conclave. For one, Andrea Tornielli, at the time a Vatican correspondent (“vaticanista”) and a friend of Cardinal Bergoglio (later to be given a position in the Vatican), published essentially a press release for Cardinal Bergoglio’s candidacy on March 2, 2013 (see here, here, here, and here). Tornielli quoted an unnamed cardinal as saying: “Four years of Bergoglio would be enough to change things.” In another echo of this Bergoglian theme, ex-Cardinal McCarrick was visited by an “influential Italian gentleman” (see Villanova Speech) who lobbied him to campaign for Bergoglio, saying in part that Bergoglio could change the Church in “five years” (see here, here, here, and here). The same Bergoglian theme bubbled up among other sources at the time. In sum, it was quoted by at least three separate reporters using two to possibly three separate sources — not to mention its use by McCarrick’s visitor .
We do know Bergoglio himself had said he believe he’d be pope for only four to five years, and that he spoke of wanting “irreversible change.” Consequently, it seems quite likely if not probable that Bergoglio was the original source of the statement (i.e., “Four years of Bergoglio would be enough to change things”) – and that Tornielli (who had dinner with Bergoglio on February 27, 2013), and the “influential Italian gentleman”, and other cardinals had heard this papal campaign slogan in some form directly from Bergoglio himself prior to the 2013 conclave.
A Horrid Thought
We know that Pope Francis went into the 2013 conclave with an agenda: irreversible change. The question is from his standpoint, how does he insure it is irreversible? As of now, over 50% of the cardinals were appointed by Francis. These new cardinals, for the most part, seem to have been picked because they are Bergoglians. Therefore, it appears quite likely, if not probable, that the next conclave will produce a Pope Francis II. As horrid a thought as this is — barring Divine intervention; another horrid thought came to me: what if these “odds” aren’t good enough for Francis?
Consider, Pope Francis knows his own election, dependent on cardinals created by Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI, was no sure thing. Indeed, his own election required the aid of the St. Gallen mafia, his own campaigning, the possible help of an Italian vaticanista, the help of the “influential Italian gentleman“, the help of McCarrick (all discussed in The Conclave Chronicles), and a questionably-timed police raid the morning of the conclave that knee-capped the chances of his chief rival for the papacy (see The Forgotten ‘October Surprise’ of the 2013 Conclave; The Forgotten ‘October Surprise’ (Part II): Cui Bono?). If such happy “coincidences” were necessary for his own election; will Francis leave it to chance that his hoped for successor — who he hopes will secure his “irreversible” legacy — will be as ‘fortunate’ in the next conclave? Or, could Francis do more to improve the odds?
As horrid as it is to imagine it, there is something more Francis could do to virtually guarantee a successor along the lines he wants — at least as far as human agency goes. Theoretically, Pope Francis could alter the laws governing papal conclaves, or scrap them all together. He could, theoretically, enact new papal legislation for conclaves that would restrict the number of qualified Cardinal electors to a small group of Cardinals.
There is something of a precedent for this going back to the time of Pope Nicholas II (see Here) when cardinal-bishops had a leading role in selecting the candidate for the papacy (see also the election of Pope Innocent II and the election controversy involving anti-pope Anacletus). So, theoretically, in hopes of making his reforms “irreversible,” Francis could restrict eligible Cardinal-electors to a trusted set of Cardinals, for example, perhaps those who sit on his Counsel of Cardinal Advisors, at one time totaling eight cardinals but now seven. Changing conclave rules to protect “reform” is not new. Pope Paul VI changed the rules so that Cardinals over the age of 80 would be ineligible to vote in conclaves — thus removing a segment of the College of Cardinals potentially in opposition to the reforms of Vatican II.
Perhaps such a scenario is no more than a scary hypothetical. No more than an improbable nightmare scenario. Then again, this is the Pope who gave us Amoris Laetitia, Pachamama, the Abu Dhabi statement, the Scalfari interviews, and a host of other outrages, most recently Traditionis Custodes. This is a Pope who want “irreversible” change.
Buckle your seatbelts. It will be a wild ride to the end of this pontificate as Francis “speeds up.” Pray for the Church, and let us pray for Pope Francis that he remembers the Lord’s words to Peter: “Simon, Simon, behold Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you like wheat. But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and thou being once converted, confirm thy brethren” (Luke 22:31-32).
Steven O’Reilly is a graduate of the University of Dallas and the Georgia Institute of Technology. A former intelligence officer, he and his wife, Margaret, live near Atlanta with their family. He has written apologetic articles and is author of Book I of the Pia Fidelis trilogy, The Two Kingdoms. (Follow on twitter at @fidelispia for updates). He asks for your prayers for his intentions. He can be contacted at StevenOReilly@AOL.com or StevenOReilly@ProtonMail.com (or follow on Twitter: @S_OReilly_USA or on Parler or Gab: @StevenOReilly).
- The College of Cardinals is comprised of three ranks of cardinals: Cardinal Bishops, Cardinal Priest, and Cardinal Deacon.
- The origin of the phrase — “Four years of Bergoglio would be enough to change things …” — is a curious one. As I discuss in more detail in my original article, “The influential Italian Gentleman,” Tornielli cites an anonymous cardinal, as indicated above. Gerald O’Connell, in his book, The Election of Pope Francis discusses the famous quote. In it, one of O’Connell vaticanisti colleagues, Mathilde Burgos, quotes Cardinal Errazuriz, using the same line: “Four years of Bergoglio would be enough to change things!” While it is possible Errazuriz used the line with both Burgos and Tornielli, writer Paul Vallely quotes Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor use of the line (see here): “”Four years of Bergoglio would be enough to change things,” Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor, and an old friend of Francis, told me.” This is curious indeed. We have Cardinal Errazuriz using the line with a Chilean reporter, and we have either Cardinal Errazuriz or Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor using the same line with Tornielli. Or was it yet another cardinal that used it with Tornielli? With such an circuitous pedigree, the “four years” line appears to be a pre-packaged, electioneering talking point manufactured to defuse concerns cardinals might have about Bergoglio’s age–and indeed there had been such concerns. We know the line was used with at least three different journalists, and was possibly used by two or even three different cardinals, and by the “influential Italian gentleman.” Yet, given this commonality, one may rightly wonder whether the line was even original to any of them! There is the real and amusing prospect that Cardinal Bergoglio himself was the ultimate and original source of the pithy phrase.