Matt C. Abbott
Papal tide may be turning, writes priest
By Matt C. Abbott
February 29, 2020

Is Pope Francis now leaning more toward Catholic orthodoxy?

Father Brian W. Harrison, O.S., hopes that might be the case. (So do I!)

Harrison recently wrote the following in an email:
    Several surprisingly traditional interventions have come from Peter's successor in the last few months. Notably, we've seen a robustly orthodox Motu Proprio on Sacred Scripture establishing the 'Sunday of the Word of God,' and, in Querida Amazonia, the confirmation of priestly celibacy and the reservation of sacramental ordination (deacons as well as priests and bishops) to men.

    I don't think I'm the only Catholic in whom this development has been stirring hopes that we may now be starting to see Christ's promises to Peter, the rock, a little more clearly in action, after seven very lean years of a pontificate in which they have often seemed mysteriously hidden. Of course, the providential interplay, and probably frequent tension, between those promises and the human free will that they will never simply override, will always remain mysterious. In any case, I thought you might find fascinating, as I have, these observations by the veteran vaticanista Sandro Magister [click here to read Magister's article].

    This report from Italy makes known certain things that I haven't seen reported prominently in this country. It shows how Pope Francis, largely behind the scenes, or acting through Vatican cardinals, has been offering some definite resistance to the most radically heterodox sector of today's Church, namely, the German bishops (the vast majority), clergy and lay leaders. As is now well known, their noxious 'synodal process' is openly pushing for the abolition of celibacy, for female deacons, priests and bishops, and for the rejection of perennial Church teaching on homosexuality and other issues covered by the Sixth Commandment.

    (As a little straw in the wind, who would have suspected that the most outspokenly conservative German cardinal, Gerhard Ludwig Mueller, whom Francis fired as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith a couple of years ago, would now receive a friendly personal letter from the pope thanking him for his recent appreciative comments about Querida Amazonia's upholding of priestly celibacy? And this has happened around the same time that, according to one report, a papal audience given to Cardinal Marx, super-liberal leader of the German bishops, became a virtual shouting match in which his and Francis' raised voices could be heard through closed doors down the adjacent corridor!)

    Is the tide beginning to turn? Or, as some of you reading this may suspect, is it all just a cynical piece of theatrical peronismo – i.e., Francis taking one step back in preparation for two steps forward? Time will tell. But if anything should cause hope to spring eternal, it is surely Our Lord's promise that the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church founded on Petrine rock.

    Let's offer some Lenten prayers and sacrifices that Peter's Titanic-sized barque continues to turn little by little away from the looming iceberg – or perhaps I should say, siren song – of conformity with the moral decadence and doctrinal skepticism and indifferentism that now predominates in what was once Western Christendom.

The Rev. Brian W. Harrison, O.S., M.A., S.T.D., a priest of the Society of the Oblates of Wisdom, is an emeritus professor of theology of the Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico in Ponce. He has had lengthy pastoral experience in the city of Ponce, including the pastorate of a parish, a prison chaplain, and a Defender of the Bond for Puerto Rico's marriage tribunals.

He was born in Australia and, after being raised as a Presbyterian, converted to the Catholic Faith in 1972. In 1979 he began studies for the priesthood in the major seminary of Sydney. After completing his licentiate in theology at the Angelicum in Rome, he was ordained a priest in Saint Peter's Basilica in 1985 by His Holiness Pope John Paul II. In 1997 he gained his doctorate in systematic theology, summa cum laude, from the Pontifical Athenæum (now University) of the Holy Cross in Rome.

Since 2007 Father Harrison has been scholar-in-residence at the Oblates of Wisdom house of studies in St. Louis, Mo. Since January 2012 he has also been the chaplain of St. Mary of Victories Chapel. He is the author of three books and over 120 articles.

© Matt C. Abbott


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Matt C. Abbott

Matt C. Abbott is a Catholic commentator with a Bachelor of Arts degree in communication, media and theatre from Northeastern Illinois University. He also has an Associate in Applied Science degree in business management from Triton College. Abbott has been interviewed on HLN, MSNBC, Bill Martinez Live, WOSU Radio in Ohio, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's 2019 ‘Unsolved’ podcast about the unsolved murder of Father Alfred Kunz, Alex Shuman's 'Smoke Screen: Fake Priest' podcast, WLS-TV (ABC) in Chicago, WMTV (NBC) and WISC-TV (CBS) in Madison, Wisconsin. He’s been quoted in The New York Times, the Chicago Tribune and other media outlets. He’s mentioned in the 2020 Report on the Holy See's Institutional Knowledge and Decision-Making Related to Former Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick (1930 to 2017), which can be found on the Vatican's website. He can be reached at

(Note: I welcome and appreciate thoughtful feedback. Insults will be ignored. Only in very select cases will I honor a request to have a telephone conversation about a topic in my column. Email is much preferred. God bless you and please keep me in your prayers!)


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