On Religion/Opinion

Vatican chatter about another anonymous ‘Demos’ epistle

Catholic cyberspace had a meltdown during Lent in 2022 as cardinals circulated a letter from "Demos" -- Greek for "people" -- an anonymous scribe claiming that "this pontificate is a disaster in many or most respects; a catastrophe."

The author turned out to be the now-late Cardinal George Pell of Australia, who served Pope Francis as leader of the Vatican's Secretariat of the Economy.

Now, there is a "Demos II" epistle from another anonymous cardinal -- criticizing Pope Francis and describing seven tasks facing the next pontiff.

"It is clear," noted Demos II, on the Italian website Daily Compass, "that the strength of Pope Francis' pontificate is the added emphasis he has given to compassion toward the weak, outreach to the poor and marginalized, concern for the dignity of creation and the environmental issues that flow from it, and efforts to accompany the suffering and alienated in their burdens.

"Its shortcomings are equally obvious: an autocratic, at times seemingly vindictive, style of governance; a carelessness in matters of law; an intolerance for even respectful disagreement; and -- most seriously -- a pattern of ambiguity in matters of faith and morals causing confusion among the faithful. ... The result today is a Church more fractured than at any time in her recent history."

An American Jesuit, one who has influenced journalists for decades, responded in an equally blunt manner.

"In truth, Demos II is a fraud who mourns a church of the past and his own loss of power in it," noted Father Thomas J. Reese, currently a Religion News Service columnist. "Make no mistake about it, this document is about power and influence in the church."

Another critic of the cardinals circulating Demos II's epistle noted that it was released while Pope Francis was hospitalized with a respiratory infection.

"If Francis were a dictator, he would call in all the cardinals and require a confession. But he won't because he's not," wrote Kevin Beck, for the Where Peter Is website.

While criticizing the "monarchical tendencies" of Pope Benedict, Beck said describing the current pope as "autocratic is risible. Francis has included more people in the decision-making process and has assigned traditionally unrepresented people -- especially women -- to influential Vatican offices." By comparison, many progressives insist that Pope John Paul II embraced a "Vatican I model" of authority.

"Hostility to papal power is not a matter of principle" for Demos II supporters, added Beck. "They didn't criticize John Paul or Benedict for their rejection of collegiality ... presumably because they agree with them."

The Demos II document stresses that the next pope should focus on the "recovery and re-establishment" of ancient doctrines now "obscured or lost" for many Catholics.

These include, the text noted, that "(a) no one is saved except through, and ONLY through, Jesus Christ, as he himself made clear; (b) God is merciful but also just, and is intimately concerned with every human life, He forgives but He also holds us accountable, He is both Savior and Judge; (c) man is God's creature, not a self-invention, a creature not merely of emotion and appetites but also of intellect, free will, and an eternal destiny; (d) unchanging objective truths about the world and human nature exist and are knowable through Divine Revelation and the exercise of reason; (e) God's Word, recorded in Scripture, is reliable and has permanent force; (f) sin is real and its effects are lethal; and (g) his Church has both the authority and the duty to 'make disciples of all nations.'"

While insisting Demos II is "neither incendiary nor hyperbolic," theologian Larry Chapp, writing at the What We Need Now Substack, noted that these debates are framed by a "cottage industry" of angry activists who have "flooded social media with all manner of accusations against Pope Francis. Much of the criticism is valid, but much is not, and many of the provocateurs are little more than click bait grifters."

But the rhetoric used by the pope's defenders, he added, is "the same no matter from where the criticisms of this pope arise. ... To criticize Pope Francis is an act of disobedience, and even schism, and the arguments leveled against Francis are ... summarily dismissed as nothing more than fearful, right-wing cranks venting their spleen."

Terry Mattingly leads GetReligion.org and lives in Oak Ridge, Tenn. He is a senior fellow at the Overby Center at the University of Mississippi.

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