How to Navigate the Current Vatican Confusion

Episode 9.5: Confusion Reigns

If you’re a Star Wars fan, you know that the sequel trilogy (episodes 7-9) was a mess. A large part of the problem was the discontinuity Rian Johnson introduced in Episode 8, The Last Jedi. He threw out much of the plot line set up in Episode 7 as he was intent on “upsetting expectations.” This put JJ Abrams in an awkward position of trying to connect Episode 9 to the previous two movies. But the damage had already been done and the trilogy felt more like three independent movies rather than a cohesive and unified story.

I see parallels to the Star Wars sequel trilogy and Pope Francis’ papacy. It feels like he is intentionally disrupting Church tradition out of some desire to modernize Catholicism. But this is creating a mess because much of what he’s doing doesn’t seem to follow the teachings and traditions laid out by Jesus Christ and has been unyielding truth for thousands of years. To me, Pope Francis is creating a legacy for himself instead of continuing the legacy set forth by Christ and previous popes starting with St. Peter.

The obvious example of this papel disruption is Fiducia Supplicans. I’m not going to go into detail about that specific letter as there are many great articles about it that I’ll link to at the end of the article. But this letter from the Vatican is only the latest of a series of statements that have confused the Church’s teachings. And while it hasn’t created an official schism in the Church, it has split the faithful about what the Church believes.

A Legacy of Confusion

My concern is that the pope is setting a precedent of the Vatican being ignored or challenged by bishops and parishes. We are not in a good state when bishops pick and choose what statements from the Vatican they will follow. That’s hardly a Universal Church. In this case, thank God that many bishops sided with Church tradition in rejecting Fiducia Supplicans. But what if, in the future, the Vatican comes out with a document similar to Humane Vitae; something hard to follow but flows from Church teaching and tradition? Certain priests will reject the teaching citing the numerous people who rejected Fiducia Supplicans.

I now find myself in this uncomfortable position where I roll my eyes whenever I hear someone quote Pope Francis or talk about the letters and declarations coming from the Vatican. It’s the same reaction I have when I read statements from liberal politicians. It’s hard for me to hear them out although they may have a good point that teaches me something valuable. But I subconsciously discount the value of that message due to who is the one proclaiming it. I don’t like the fact that I’m discounting the teachings of the person who occupies the Chair of St. Peter and holds the keys to God’s kingdom.

And that’s what saddens me. The Church which I love is starting to feel more like a political party. People change or deliberately confuse Her message to make short-term allies and score political points. The beauty of the Catholic faith has always been that she taught unyielding truth regardless of the whims of society. I liked that St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict didn’t feel the need to radically change Church teachings out of the false sense that all change is progress. No one ever accused them of doing nothing just because they reaffirmed Church doctrine instead of modifying it.

How We Handle Confusing Times

What are we, the Catholic faithful, to do in this climate? We need to act as we’ve always acted in times of confusion and persecution — pray. We need to pray for Pope Francis and those in positions of power that they use their authority to lead us to Christ instead of furthering their agendas or legacies. We also need to pray for each other so that we can look through all this confusion and hear how God expects us to live.

We need to regularly pray the Rosary and ask Mary for her guidance. I like to dedicate the Fourth Glorious Mystery to this request. God assumed Mary into Heaven because he had a special plan for her — to lead us into communion with her son, Jesus Christ. She’s there, waiting for us to ask her for clarity and direction. She may lead us to reading and learning more about the Church’s teachings. She may call us into deeper prayer and adoration. She may ask us to fast. Mary has multiple tools to lead us to Jesus. We only need to be willing to ask and listen.