Tuesday, January 2, 2018

REVIEW: The Dictator Pope

For those who may want to know what people have to say about "The Dictator Pope" -- A Review by Mr. Stuart Chessman (http://sthughofcluny.org/2018/01/the-dictator-pope.html).
The Dictator Pope
By “Marcantonio Colonna”

The Dictator Pope hit our Kindles (it’s not yet in hard copy) just in time for Christmas. I can tell you, after a quick read, that it’s the best Vatican expose since 1999’s Gone with the Wind in the Vatican by “I Millenari” (indeed, some of the targets in the curia seem to be the same in both these works). But the focus of the Dictator Pope greatly differs from that work. It concentrates not so much on inside “revelations” but on the career, background and circumstances on one individual – namely, Pope Francis. It seeks to deepen our understanding of what is already known, to provide background and to “connect the dots” among people and policies.

The Dictator Pope is streamlined, succinct and well written. Here and there (such as in his discussion of the situation of the Knights of Malta) our author – “Marcantonio Colonna” – does seem to display specific knowledge beyond what has been published previously. Yet, as I noted, this book does not emphasize journalistic “leaks.” We indeed are told Pope Francis directed the contribution of funds to the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton. But does that supposed fact have any significance given what we already know about the media support, both direct and indirect, given to the Democratic Party by Francis – surely of incomparably greater value to Hillary than any money Francis could put on the table?

For several reasons the Dictator Pope strikes me as reliable. For one thing, Colonna’s description of Jorge Bergoglio’s style and modus operandi agrees very well with what I have been told by those with more direct knowledge than I possess of his doings in both Rome and Argentina. It also corresponds to certain reports that have appeared now and then in the European – never the English language – mainstream press. Curiously, some of these unflattering accounts are found in sources – like the German media – otherwise entirely aligned with Bergoglio.

Marcantonio Colonna shows the stuff of a true historian in creating a narrative of the Bergoglio years and offering his judgment on what he describes. Instead of nonsense about “God’s choice,” the colorful account of the Dictator Pope has the ring of truth: the relentless rise to the top of an ambitious and manipulative man, the making of strategic alliances and political concessions leading to the acquisition of the papacy and the imposition of the Pope’s personal agenda, the ruthless elimination of real or imaginary enemies, the advancement of unworthy and corrupt favorites. The Vatican as described in this work reminds us of the stories of the Renaissance papacy told in the great histories of Leopold von Ranke and Ludwig von Pastor. Indeed, Marcantonio Colonna himself draws comparisons between Pope Francis and certain ruthlessly ambitious, often megalomaniac and, in one or two cases, perhaps even insane popes of the 14th – 17th centuries, as so well described by his illustrious predecessors.

This portrait of Pope Francis outlined in the Dictator Pope, though, requires some qualification. For one thing, the popes of the past to whom Colonna compares Francis may have been lacking in one or more – or many – of the Christian virtues ( and often in sound judgment as well ) but they were strong characters who battled against and among other powerful rival families and factions within the Church and with the great secular kingdoms and principalities of their day. Francis only has to contend with the bureaucratic ninnies of the post – Vatican II Catholic hierarchy. Regarding today’s secular powers – like the news media – Francis pursues a policy of obsequious and abject submission. For, without exception, the policies of Francis are those of the Western secular establishment from whose support Francis derives all his power.
Furthermore, these notorious popes of the past showed rare taste in art and culture. I don’t know what the reign of Francis has to offer in comparison – a homoerotic nativity scene or one of Cardinal Ravasi’s exhibits? And whatever else they were doing, the popes of the Renaissance also devoted great personal attention to the liturgy – the celebration of the papal ceremonial was a major attraction of that period. Pope Francis either disregards the liturgy altogether or “repurposes” it for political statements.

I also must take issue with Colonna’s unduly restrictive characterization of significance of the papacy of Francis. For if Francis were simply one more unscrupulous, ambitious and opportunistic prelate – like Alexander VI – we could consider him simply a regrettable but ultimately remediable failure of the papal election process. But the added dimension of Francis’s papacy is his clear ideological commitment to Catholic progressivism. Whether that is simply a cynical means to the acquisition of power (as Colonna implies) or is a matter of personal conviction is irrelevant  – it is by now an unalterable aspect of his character.  Whatever the origin of his beliefs may be,  Pope Francis is a man with a mission to “unleash” and “make irreversible” the Vatican II – to make permanent what has been done since 1962-65  and to implement further radical changes in Catholic liturgy, morality and theology.  And the policies of Pope Francis are not a bolt from the blue, but the logical culmination of the disastrous trends in theology, morality, liturgy and government in the Catholic Church that have been allowed to develop and fester since 1962-65. 

 Pope Francis’s progressive agenda involves not just the completion of a revolution within the Church but the final, absolute subjection of the Church to the dominant secular powers of 21st century.

Marcantonio Colonna’s narrative helps us to see the current situation in the Church more clearly. And a clear view of what’s going on is always a major first step forward towards reform. The response of the Vatican to this book, we hear, is a search for the author’s identity. For the rest of us, Dictator Pope is a challenge: to reflect, to pray and to take action.

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