How a past and (maybe) future pope are providing crucial leadership in age of Francis

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The events of the past few days have truly been monumental for the Roman Catholic church.

You may not have noticed — unless you’ve bothered to read the ever-growing list of Catholic news websites on both the right and left. While liberals and conservatives within the church continue to wage a very public war over everything from the future of Christendom in the West to the ongoing clerical abuse crisis, two prominent voices have led the charge when it comes to these two issues.

Again, it was conservative Catholic media that proved to be the preferred mouthpiece for Cardinal Robert Sarah and Pope Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI. Both men — with help from right-leaning news organizations — have been very vocal about the problems plaguing the modern church in our ever-secular world.

It is fitting that these two men — one considered a potential future pope, the other already a pope — are the ones leading the charge as the church continues to become polarized. Under Francis’ papacy, the ideological split has become more pronounced. As the curia continues to polarize itself in public on issues like immigration and homosexuality, church leaders like Sarah and Benedict refuse to be silenced. Once again, it’s those Catholic media voices on the right that are helping to spread their message.

Case in point: this past week. At a time when Christians around the world continue on their Lenten journey, Sarah and Benedict are making a statement about the direction of Catholicism, the legacy of Vatican II and where the church is going. Sarah, who hails from the majority-Muslim nation of Guinea in Africa, contrasted Pope Francis’ statements in telling Christian nations they should open their borders to Islamic refugees.

The 73-year-old cardinal, in his new book” Evening Draws Near” and the “Day is Nearly Over,” argues that it’s wrong to “use the Word of God to promote migration.” Sarah laments the “collapse of the West” and what he calls “migratory processes” that threatens Europe’s Christian identity. As birthrates continue to drop across Europe, and workers from other continents are needed to take jobs, the culture of the continent is changing.

“If Europe disappears, and with it the priceless values of the Old Continent, Islam will invade the world and we will completely change culture, anthropology and moral vision,” he wrote.It’s worth noting that Sarah has been at odds with Pope Francis and his allies over an array of issues, including liturgical matters and translations of Latin texts.

The excerpt was largely ignored by mainstream news outlets. Instead, it made headlines on sites such as LifeSiteNews, a conservative Catholic news portal that ran several stories stemming from Sarah’s book.

It’s worth noting that Sarah has been at odds with Pope Francis and his allies over an array of issues, including liturgical matters, moral theology and translations of Latin texts.

The ideological divide within the Vatican was highlighted last summer when disgraced former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, a key Francis ally, was revealed to be a serial abuser. Who knew what and when about McCarrick remains an unanswered question and, some argue, has tarnished Francis’ papacy. The leaks from Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, soon after the McCarrick scandal broke, catapulted conservative Catholic media to the forefront and made these various websites and blogs major players in the internet news age.

Like Sarah, Benedict made headlines for an essay (you can read the full text here) he wrote regarding the clergy sex abuse crisis. In the essay made public on Wednesday, Benedict argued that the sexual revolution of the 1960s and theology stemming from Vatican II are to blame for the effects it had on priests from that generation. Indeed, many of the accusations of sex abuse of minors and young men in seminaries span from that era and through to the early 2000s.

“This was in many ways a very difficult time… the extensive collapse of the next generation of priests in those years and the very high number of laicizations were a consequence of all these developments,” he wrote.

Benedict’s essay was published simultaneously in English by Catholic News Agency and the National Catholic Register, in German at Klerusblatt and in Italian at Corriere della Sera. Excerpts were also made available to the New York Post.

At the same time, the National Catholic Reporter, a leading voice of the Catholic left, didn’t even feature a story on Benedict’s essay on its homepage. Instead, the website was leading with a story on a panel of experts discussing climate change. The newspaper also had a column about EWTN host Raymond Arroyo, accusing him of “anti-Francis, pro-Trump propaganda.” EWTN, which also owns Catholic News Agency, is religious-themed cable TV channel.

The coordinated leak of Benedict’s piece, again most of these news organizations lean right, allowed him to get his message out to those likely to be simpatico with him.

Continue reading “How a past and (maybe) future pope are providing crucial leadership in age of Francis,” by Clemente Lisa, at Religion Unplugged.

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