The Catholic Church at a Crossroads

The Catholic Church at a Crossroads
L\'Osservatore Romano/Pool Photo via AP

An emblematic piece of fake news propagated during that fateful year 2016 was infamously headlined “Pope Francis Shocks World, Endorses Donald Trump for President.” Ross Douthat’s book To Change the Church: Pope Francis and the Future of Catholicism doesn’t have quite as much shock value, but the conservative New York Times columnist is still eager to offer a punch line that will unsettle plenty of Catholics. For Douthat, the left-leaning pope and the far-right American president do have something crucial in common: They are both deeply divisive and irresponsible populists. The two seek to connect with the people directly, they attempt to bypass existing bureaucracies and disrupt long-standing institutions, and ultimately, they don’t care much for observing the rule of law. Just as countless Americans are deeply worried about the “Trump effect” on their democracy, so too, Douthat suggests, should Catholics be frightened by the much-​touted “Francis effect” on one of the world’s oldest and largest religious institutions. The man born Jorge Mario Bergoglio in Buenos Aires in 1936 and known as “the great reformer” by his many admirers, could end up destabilizing the church or splitting it apart altogether.

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