Congressman Thomas Massie, R-Ky., has invited me to the House of Representatives to watch Pope Francis address a joint session of Congress. This generous Methodist congressman has invited your traditionalist Roman Catholic columnist and cable TV guy to this grand event. I am going with joy because the pope is the Vicar of Christ on Earth, and his presence in Congress is historically unique. But within me is fear and trembling over what he might say. The papacy is an office created personally by Our Lord. Its occupants are direct descendants of St. Peter. Its role and authorities have evolved over the centuries, but the core of its responsibilities has always been the preservation of traditional teachings about faith and morals and safeguarding the sacraments. While the papacy is a monarchy, the teaching authority in the Church is “the bishops under the pope.” This means that a pope intent on change ought to consult with his fellow bishops.
Before the monumental Church changes of the 1960s and 1970s that trivialized the Mass and blurred the distinctions between the clergy and the laity, Popes John XXIII and Paul VI consulted their fellow bishops at Vatican II. The consultations were fractious and belligerent, but both popes got what they wanted: a watering down of liturgical practices and an easing of rules safeguarding the sacraments, so as to make the Church more appealing and accessible to former and to non-adherents. The result was a disaster. Fewer Catholics went to Mass, confusion about former theological norms reigned, and a general tenor pervaded the faithful that the Church never really meant what it preached. Former Catholics continued to stay away, new Catholics barely showed up, and many traditional faithful became demoralized. FULL REPORT