Sunday, 29 January 2017



Dear Pope Francis,

You have compared Donald Trump to Adolf Hitler. You must be expert in these matters. Because in your native Argentina you experienced a notorious Hitleresque dictatorship. The military Junta launched a savage ‘dirty war’ on revolutionaries, lefties and opponents. Death squads killed thousands. Many disappeared forever. But why, when you headed the Jesuit Order there, you never spoke out against the repression? Fearless Christian leaders like Pastor Niemoller and Cardinal Von Galen publicly denounced the Nazi regime, risking their lives. You yourself did not attack the Junta. You may now safely bash Trump and terrible Adolf but…why didn’t you have a go at your little Hitlers, the Argentinean Generals, when it was morally imperative? Odd.

Maybe you are a little confused? Four of your Cardinals, led by American Cardinal Burke, have expressed ‘dubia’, Latin for ‘doubts’ about your leadership. You may be in need of ‘fraternal correction’, they say. Wot! Correcting the Pope! Unprecedented, eh? The four Cardinals argue the teaching of your Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of Love, confuses faithful Catholics. About access to key Sacraments of the Church, like the Eucharist and Marriage. At stake are hallowed teachings like the indissolubility of matrimony and the wrongness of divorce. Giving Holy Communion to the remarried or divorced or, as the old Catholic Church used to say, those ‘living in sin’, is what you appear to suggest. Or maybe not? All very unclear. And very confusing to the people of God.

To justify their audacity the Cardinals have invoked the example of St Paul’s. The Apostle who corrected St Peter: ‘And when Peter came to Antioch I withstood him to his face, because he was in the wrong’ (Galatians 2:11). Well, all right for St Paul to do that, as he had received a direct revelation from Christ. The Cardinals are only the Pope’s appointees. So, doubly brave of them to challenge you!

Bit of a cheek on my part, I confess. I am, for my sins, an Anglican priest. Belonging to a Church which permits divorce, the remarriage of divorcees, blesses gays, the lot. My Church ladles out Sacraments like confetti to all and sundry. Therefore I know I live in a glass house. Still, I can’t help caring for all of Christendom. Including the Catholic Church. Of which I am very fond. Was I nor born in Rome? By birth I am a bit more Roman then you are, I daresay…

It must great for you to know you are infallible. The 1870 infallibility dogma states that the Pope cannot err. (When speaking ex cathedra, in his official Pontifical capacity.) Bracing thought. Of course, papal infallibility does not mean you are like an infallible meteorologist. If you look out of the Vatican window and hazard, ‘It is going to snow’, that is not bound to happen. The dogma only applies to matters to faith and morals. On faith you are kosher – more or less. You have not declared that, say, Christ is not divine or that the Trinity is a quaternity: God forbid! Nor have you, ex cathedra, uttered straight moral untruths. It’s the confusion, the unclarity that worry the Cardinals. And the silence. Your silence.

Yes, the silence. When in Marrakesh I listened to your Midnight Christmas Mass homily. You preached passionately about the plight of child refugees. Well and good. But why did you not breathe a word about those other innocent children, the unborn babies, slain in abortion? Dear Pope Francis, in the UK alone 8.400.000 babies have been ‘terminated’ since 1967. Eight million four hundred thousand! Innocent babies! Killed in the womb! Were they not human children? Did they not deserve protection? Wasn’t their life sacred? And yet not a word about the unborn children in your homily. You kept mum. As dumb as a fish. How could you, the Vicar of Christ, do that? How could you?

You will counter that ‘Joy of Love’ reiterates the Church’s condemnation of abortion. Indeed it does. A short passage, tucked away in a sea of pages. But what matters is not only what you say occasionally but what you repeat. A vital teaching must be proclaimed loud and clear, again and again. Previous Pontiffs like St John Paul II did that. He was never half-silent about the grave sin of abortion. He attacked it, clearly and frequently. Unlike you…

You are popular, nonetheless. Because you stand up for the poor, the homeless and the underprivileged. That’s right and proper. The Gospel commands it. And that makes the secular world like you. Alas, religious practice doesn’t reflect that. Vaticanologist Sandro Magister observes how in Latin America – your continent - the Catholic Church is crumbling. In the last two years alone in Brazil those giving allegiance to Catholicism have fallen from 60 to 50 per cent. In a formerly steadfast Catholic nation! And in Europe, in the progressive Germany of frumpy, pseudo-Christian Merkel, churches are emptying. A very rich but moribund Church.

The Church flourishes in black Africa, though. Of course, African Christians tend to be conservatives. Guinea’s Cardinal Sarah even wants priests at the altar to face East, not West, towards the people. That’s anthropocentric but ‘God is the focus of the Mass’, not the congregation, he says.  That made the Vatican – you - hopping mad. Still, he is right. Ex Africa lux, it seems.

‘Build bridges, not walls’, you exhort, gunning for the US President. But when I look at your Vatican City, where you live, I see it surrounded by a very, very high wall...

Revd Frank Julian Gelli


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