Pope Francis’s “Paradigm Shift”: Continuity or Rupture in the Mission of the Church? An Assessment of His Pontificate’s First Five Years.
Pope Francis places Catholics in a dilemma. Many have the very understandable, indeed holy, desire to obey the Successor of Saint Peter. At the same time, Pope Francis seems to be denying deeply held traditions of the faith.
José Antonio Ureta’s Pope Francis’s “Paradigm Shift”: Continuity or Rupture in the Mission of the Church? An Assessment of His Pontificate’s First Five Years sums up that dilemma.
The Chilean-born author is an influential pro-life and pro-family activist that has written many articles and commentaries on affairs inside the Church and society. He currently serves as a senior researcher for the French Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property.
The pontificate of Francis has received much attention from the world press. When he first became pope in 2013, he was hailed as a reformer. The popular press loves reformers, especially Catholic ones, and when Francis indicated an intention to relax the Church’s condemnation of divorce and homosexuality, they could not contain their admiration for the Argentine Pope.
Supporters rushed books into print. Pope Francis: Life and Revolution: A Biography of Jorge Bergoglio by Elisabetta Piqué was lush with praise. Pope Francis takes the Bus, and Other Unexpected Stories by Rosario Carello was full of heart-warming anecdotes about this “pope of the people.” The blurb for the 2014 film, The Francis Effect effuses, “From the moment Pope Francis appeared on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, he won the hearts of the people. His humility, simplicity and closeness to the poor reveal a man deeply in touch with the Gospel.”
Current books are far more critical. The Dictator Pope: The Inside Story of the Francis Papacy by Marcantonio Colonna (a pen name for Henry J. A. Sire) presents a power-mad incompetent surrounded by sycophants with questionable morals. Philip Lawler’s Lost Shepherd: How Pope Francis is Misleading His Flock is more wistful, showing a picture of a reformer whose good intentions have been swallowed up in a morass of personal weakness and evil advisers.
Indeed, five years after his election to the papal throne, the bloom is off the rose. Pope Bergoglio’s airborne press conferences have become as commonplace as the countless changes to Church teaching and pastoral practice he has introduced.
Mr. Ureta’s book is not a biography. It is organized around principles and issues. Here the ideas that have motivated Pope Francis are laid out and explained. The book was not written to be a “thriller,” nor does it have that tone. The reader is guided through the many ways in which Pope Francis has pushed at the boundaries of many of the foundations of Catholicism. It shows his considerable success in imposing the “spirit of the age” onto the Bride of Christ.
Mr. Ureta is respectful. He backs up his statements with Pope Francis’s own words and those of his supporters. Indeed, the title includes one of Francis’s pet phrases, “Paradigm Shift.” Paradigm is a new age buzzword that seems to cover almost anything. “Shifting” the paradigm implies some sort of major change. The phrase sounds so intellectual and progressive that many are moved to pretend that they know what it means. This is a favorite trick of the progressive media. To fight it then, requires a definition.
According to Merriam-Webster, the word paradigm has three definitions. The first is rather vague, and the second refers to the workings of grammar. It is the third definition that is appropriate here, “philosophical and theoretical framework of a scientific school or discipline within which theories, laws, and generalizations and the experiments performed in support of them are formulated.” Certainly, the Pope is not a scientist, but his is a school that is trying to formulate new theories and laws.
Pope Francis’s “philosophical and theoretical framework” is that of twenty-first century progressivism. It is all here—Marxism, world governance, environmentalism, Islamophilia (the opposite of Islamophobia), indifferentism, relativism, and lots more. If there is an –ism aimed at tearing down the last vestiges of traditional society, Pope Francis appears to have spoken out in favor of it.
As an example, chapter six discusses the idea of subjective morality, the idea Francis summed up when he said, “Everyone has his own idea of good and evil and must choose to follow the good and fight evil as he conceives them.”1 This nonjudgmental tone is echoed in the Pope’s well-known advice, “If someone is gay and is searching for the Lord and has good will, then who am I to judge him?”2
Also quoted in the same chapter are many of Francis’s supporters, including Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Cardinal Walter Kasper, Cardinal Blaise Cupich, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, Bishop Brendan Leahy, Bishop David G. O’Connell, and Fr. James Martin. One assumes that all of these luminaries’ words correctly presented the Pope’s opinions, insofar as all of them have prospered mightily under Francis’s pontificate.
From these quotations and lists, one can grasp another major strength of this book. It is incredibly broad in respect to the sources used. Mr. Ureta brings many sources previously unknown to an English-speaking audience. French, German, Dutch, and (of course) Italian sources are intermingled with those in English to produce a comprehensive view of Francis’s thinking.
What does Mr. Ureta see as the common thread tying the Pope’s “Paradigm Shift” together? “Whatever the field affected by Pope Francis’s paradigm shift, a shared trait is always the desire to embrace modernity and align the Church with the secular and anti-Christian Revolution which most popes over the last two centuries condemned in various ways. Thus, preaching on God is increasingly replaced with preaching human values.”
Those who believe in and love the truths of the Catholic Church cannot afford to ignore this book.
- Remarks to Eugenio Scalfari, published in La Repubblica, October 1, 2013.
- Press Conference, July 28, 2013.