It is difficult to believe that it has been almost six years since Pope Francis ascended the papal throne to become the 266th Successor of Peter. It is even more difficult to me that it has been a year since the founding of the site dedicated to explicating Francis’s Magisterium in the face of an onslaught of criticism, rebellion, and misunderstanding. Since its founding, the writers here at Where Peter Is have striven to write positive and illuminating articles on the Holy Father’s continuing work, especially highlighting the concerns most impressed by him upon the Church. From the plight of the poor to the degradation of the environment to the culture of waste and the greater union of clergy and laymen, our singular goal has been to cut through the cacophony of often inexpert media coverage and even deliberate dissent to impress upon our readers the holy aspirations the Pope expresses for the Church.
It is worth noting some of what has taken place in the past year, which has perhaps been the most dramatic thus far in Francis’s papacy. While I cannot begin to do the year’s major stories any justice in what follows, I think it would be helpful for us to see where this pontificate has been and where it seems set to go from here.
2018 saw what seems to be the end of the Amoris Laetitia controversy, less the dramatic fireworks it promised to be and more the sputtering death of an overheated car on the side of the highway. While an ever-shrinking contingent continues to use Amoris as an excuse to dissent from the Pope, the Holy See has been exceedingly clear in the proper applications of the document through its addition of the Buenos Aires bishops’ guidelines into the Church’s Magisterium. Serious talk of the dubia and so-called ‘corrections’ of the Pope seem to have gone by the wayside. Much to the chagrin of dissidents, the bishops have almost universally accepted the papal exhortation and begun to implement it in their dioceses. How these new approaches to helping the divorced and remarried reintegrate into the Church (and, in cases where it is possible, to return to the sacraments) will continue to take shape has yet to be seen, but there is now no serious question that Amoris Laetitia is here to stay. As Cardinal Farrell made clear in an interview with La Stampa, “There is no correction to be made. There is nothing in ‘Amoris Laetitia’ that is contrary to the Gospel. What does Francis do? He goes to the gospel.” He went on to describe the vestiges of dissent as an “ideological conflict” dedicated to “going back to a church” that never really existed.
Pope Francis has continued his work to highlight concerns about the environment and climate change, pressing ever more that these are no mere political issues but truly moral responsibilities that the whole world must tackle together. Catholics have a responsibility to live in ways that respect and care for the natural world, fighting what Francis has repeatedly labeled the “throwaway culture” in defense of the poor, the marginalized, and the suffering. Released almost four years ago, Laudato Si’, like Francis’s other major writings, has proven to be a schematic for the Church in approaching the most important problems of our time in ways that are rooted in Tradition but possess a new spark of creativity. It seems that more Catholics and even non-Catholics, especially in the United States, are coming to see climate change as a pressing moral issue that we must work together to solve as quickly and effectively as possible. It cannot be seriously doubted that this is not, in large part, thanks to the Pope wading into the issue with the clear and authoritative voice of the Successor of St. Peter. Bishops around the world have begun to make climate change and environmental stewardship important new projects for their dioceses, and many non-Catholics now see the Catholic Church as an invaluable ally in the fight to heal the world of environmental degradation.
One difficult chapter for Catholics in 2019 has been renewed controversy surrounding the clerical sex abuse scandals. On the one hand, it is clear that Francis has done perhaps more than any of his predecessors to outline and attack the problem in the Church, from discussing and combating secretive clericalism and careerism to working with bishops and laity to increase diocesan transparency. Nevertheless, the Pope has made some moves which were widely seen as missteps, and there is a not insignificant number of people within and without the Church who believe he is not moving quickly enough to remedy what ills the Church. 2018 will perhaps be most remembered for two things: a shocking grand jury report from Pennsylvania outlining hundreds of examples of abuse over the previous century and a rogue archbishop calling for the Pope to resign after accusing him of deliberately covering up for then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. Journalists immediately went to work on the latter story, with the Pope famously asking for them to “do their jobs,” and in time the story seemed to gain less and less credibility in the eyes of the media. This issue may still hang over this papacy but, for the time being, it seems that the accusations have been discarded as a misinterpretation of certain facts and willful ignorance of others.
Francis’s track record on the abuse scandals is hardly seen as flawless by even his staunchest supporters, but situations like the one involving the entire bishops’ conference of Chile offering their resignations after a private papal meeting or Francis offering public apologies for what he described as “serious mistakes” in his initial handling of allegations against the now defrocked Fernando Karadima and Bishop Juan Barros. Chilean abuse survivor Juan Carlos Cruz saw the mass resignation as a sign of hope that Francis is serious about solving this issue permanently. While the USCCB recently fell into a controversy when its proposed legislation was rejected by the Holy See for being submitted too late and contradicting standing canon law, 2019 will feature a meeting between the world’s bishops and the Pope dedicated to resolving this issue.
The Pope is also refusing to let up on his push for the Church to focus its efforts on the poor and marginalized, especially migrants. Francis has renewed his criticism of those who would prioritize keeping migrants out of more prosperous countries, reiterating that Christ is to be found in the face of the stranger and that wealthy nations have the moral responsibility before God to prioritize those in need. In his most recent remarks, the Pope has once again drawn the distinction between those who “build bridges” and those who “build walls,” seen by many as an implied critique of the U.S. President’s border policies and the sentiments of many citizens in Western countries. It is doubtless that the Holy Father will continue to emphasize our corporate and individual responsibilities toward those cast aside by society in the year to come.
These are just some of the many major themes of 2018. Others, like Gaudete et Exultate or the update to the Catechism on the death penalty, will also stick out in readers’ minds. Space prohibits listing numerous other noteworthy events.
However, it is important to present here something we, as a team, have been discussing for some time now. Our conclusion is that the main foundations of the apologetic work in defense of the current pontificate have been laid, especially as regards the Pope’s orthodoxy and the congruence of his teachings with the previous Magisterium. From here on out, our task will be to focus on specific implementations of the Pope’s vision for Church reform and a more direct focus on the major themes he presents to the Faithful. As 2019 progresses, expect more from us on the current efforts of the Holy See on issues like climate change, defending human life, aiding the poor and marginalized, and spreading the joy of the Gospel in everyday life.
In 2013, Pope Francis released his first papal exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium. In it, he outlined his vision for the continued work of the Church in light of the Second Vatican Council and the new evangelization, a vision which he continues to implement despite dissenters’ attempts to thwart his reforms. This effort continues on into 2019. Let us all pray that the Holy Father has nothing but success.
Whenever we make the effort to return to the source and to recover the original freshness of the Gospel, new avenues arise, new paths of creativity open up, with different forms of expression, more eloquent signs and words with new meaning for today’s world.
Evangelii Gaudium, para. 11