Lost Shepherd: How Francis is Misleading His Flock
By Philip Lawler
Regenery Gateway, 2018, 203 pages
Roman Catholicism had a huge problem on its hands. One of the church’s doctrines is that Catholics who are divorced and remarried without having their first marriage annulled by the church, are considered to be living in an open state of adultery and are barred from receiving communion at mass. The church states that the mass is its most important and sacred act of worship. In an era when divorce is rampant, remarried Catholics felt like second-class citizens and many stopped attending mass altogether. Progressives in the church saw the need for change.
In 2016, pope Francis issued “Amoris Laetitia” a post-synodal apostolic exhortation, and buried deep within the document, in a footnote no less, was a statement which allowed remarried divorcees access to communion based upon their parish priest’s pastoral guidance and discretion. Conservative clerics and laypersons were shocked beyond measure! The banning of communion to remarried divorcees was considered to be infallible doctrine, and yet the pope had guilefully subverted it. The controversy over “Amoris Laetitia” has been escalating for two years with conservative outrage growing stronger and bolder with each passing month.
The author of this book, Philip Lawler, is the editor of Catholic World News, a conservative source of Catholic news and commentary. In “Lost Shepherd: How Francis is Misleading His Flock,” Lawler describes in detail the behind-the-scenes political maneuverings and manipulations at the extraordinary and ordinary assemblies of bishops in 2014 and 2015 that wrestled with, among other things, the question of communion for remarried divorcees. The subsequent publication of the exhortation and the reaction from conservatives, especially the Five Dubia (questions) sent to Francis by four conservative cardinals asking him to clarify the document, are then discussed. Lawler fills in many blanks for those of us who have been following the “Amoris Laetitia” crisis for almost two years.
Francis no doubt views “Amoris” as a pragmatic step that sacrifices dogma in an attempt to retain members. But Lawler and other conservatives can’t imagine a Catholic church in which once-infallible dogma is rendered transitory. For centuries, Roman Catholics have proudly boasted to Protestants that their church alone was guided by the infallible “Vicar of Christ” and that the Holy Spirit would prevent any pope from leading the church into doctrinal error.
“Providential guidance of God will see to it that the Pope shall never lead the Church into error in any matter of religion.” – The Month, Vol. 135, 1920, p. 485
Conservative Catholic pundits now have the impossible job of defending this claim in light of Francis’ artifice.
Lawler stops short of actually labeling Francis a “heretic,” but infers as much. He also briefly calls into question Francis’ psychological health. Lawler counsels his fellow conservatives to ignore the pope and remain faithful to bishops who uphold the centuries-old teachings of the church regarding the ban on communion for adults living in “irregular marriages.” Schism is not discussed…yet. But make no mistake, “Amoris” is just the beachhead. Francis and his progressive allies are currently floating additional changes to church dogma (e.g., shared communion with Protestants, blessing same-sex marriages, etc.).
This book is an absolutely incredible resource for evangelicals like myself who scrutinize the Roman Catholic church and have been observing this ongoing “Amoris” controversy. I read the entire book in only two sittings. We have not witnessed a similar crisis in our lifetime, as conservative Catholic clerics and lay leaders are absolutely bewildered by their pope and advising the laity to disobey him. My prayer is that this crisis will lead many Catholics to question the false claims once routinely made about their pope and the other man-made traditions of their church and to seek out the unchangeable Savior who offers them the Good News! of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone.
“Thus says the LORD: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the LORD.” – Jeremiah 17:5
“Lost Shepherd: How Francis is Misleading His Flock” is absolutely MUST reading for evangelical Vatican-watchers.
Postscript: Many of the priests I’ve listened to recently on conservative Catholic talk radio have, like Lawler, advised their listeners to disobey Francis’ “innovations.” However, one conservative Catholic apologist, Dave Armstrong, has taken Lawler to task for airing Catholicism’s “dirty laundry” in public.