Evangelical Thoughts about Pope Francis

Evangelical Thoughts about Pope Francis November 15, 2023

Evangelical Thoughts about Pope Francis

Il Presidente della Repubblica Sergio Mattarella incontra Papa Francesco

As an Anabaptist, ecclesiologically I’m about as far from the Catholic Church (and here I mean the Roman Catholic Church) as possible. (There are other Catholic Churches such as the Old Catholic Church and the Polish National Catholic Church that do not recognize the primacy or infallibility of the bishop of Rome.)

Over the years of my academic life in evangelical circles I have known or known of many evangelicals who joined the Catholic Church. And I have participated in Protestant-Catholic dialogue events and invited Catholic priests and theologians to speak to my classes. I have benefited from reading many Catholic theologians including: Karl Rahner, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Walter Kasper, Hans Kueng, and many more.

When the current pope was elected by the college of cardinals to succeed Catholic theologian and pope Josef Ratzinger (Benedict XVI) there was much rejoicing especially among left-leaning Catholics and they have continued to be somewhat pleased with Pope Francis even though they hoped his “reforms” would go further faster.

Then, as everyone knows, serious divisions began to appear within the Catholic Church worldwide over Pope Francis’s decisions about the reforms. Not enough for the left-leaning European and some American Catholics, including bishops, and too much for the right-leaning ones. This is a repeat of the old division between “integralists” and “modernists” that took place especially in the late 19th century and early 20th century and that has simmered within the Western dioceses of the RCC.

In recent years some conservative (traditionalist, integralist) bishops of the RCC have spoken out against Pope Francis and what they see as the anti-Catholic decisions he is making or seems about to make. A big issue is whether a bishop may grant permission to Catholic priests to celebrate the Mass in Latin. Vatican 2 seemed to discourage that, much to the dismay of traditionalists within the church.

Now Pope Francis has removed a conservative bishop from his office over a diocese in Texas. This is unusual. Usually when a pope is unhappy with a bishop and the matter cannot be resolved the bishop resigns. This bishop refused to resign and was removed. Conservative Catholics around the world are up in arms, metaphorically speaking, about it and some have gone so far as to declare Pope Francis an anti-pope, a usurper, even a heretic.

On the other hand, many German and Dutch (and other European) bishops have long flouted the authority of the pope. Some have adopted a Catholic form of liberal theology under the influence of Catholic theologians like Hans Kueng and Edward Schillebeeckx.

Two futures look possible. One is outright schism. That happened before with Catholic bishop Lefebvre who led a group of Catholics, including some Americans out of the RCC. He was excommunicated by the pope and went on to found a right-wing, traditionalists Catholic Church. His efforts have generally been considered a failure. His influence has been relatively small.

The other potential future is a reaction to Pope Francis when he dies with the cardinals electing another traditionalist like Benedict XVI. I actually predicted that election to several theologians meeting at the seminary where I taught—including Lutheran church historian Martin Marty. They didn’t think it likely. I did. Why? Because not long before I had been in Germany participating in Catholic-Lutheran dialogues. My German professor was Wolfhart Pannenberg, a close friend of Josef Ratzinger’s. He predicted it to me long before it happened.

Now my question to evangelicals who have joined the RCC is where do you stand in this conflict? With Pope Francis or with the traditionalists like Bishop Strickland? I’m not going to name the post-evangelicals to whom I’m addressing this question. If they happen to hear about my open question to them here, I hope they will respond. They know who they are.

*Note: If you choose to respond, keep your response relatively brief (no more than 100 words), on topic, addressed to me, civil and respectful (not hostile or argumentative), and devoid of pictures or links.*

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