[Commentary] The Next Pope

By Betty Clermont
Open Tabernacle (blog)
January 4, 2021

Plans for the election of the next pope are well under way. In the last quarter of 2020, there have been indications as to what the next pontiff will say and do. He will continue to make meaningless policies and procedures about child sex abuse. So thousands upon thousands of children around the world will remain at risk of being sexually tortured. All will be severely traumatized for life. Many will die.  

The next pope will maintain his predecessors’ opposition to women’s and LGBTQ person’s human rights while appearing to be liberal on issues pleasing to the American mainstream media.

In contrast to the major portion of Pope Francis’ pontificate, leaders of the Catholic rightwing are uniting behind the pope and will continue in the future, doing whatever is necessary to bolster the prestige and importance of the head of the Church.

As has been true since the 1978 election of Pope John Paul II, the pontiff will reign, but Opus Dei* will govern.

Signs of the Time

A report on the former archbishop of Washington D.C., Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, was released on Nov. 10.  It had been started more than two years earlier. Pope Francis had ordered this account be made only after the New York Archdiocese found that an allegation of sex abuse of a minor by Cardinal McCarrick was “credible and substantiated” in June 2018. After the announcement, two other accusations of sexual abuse of minors by McCarrick were revealed.

In response to unfavorable public opinion, Pope Francis accepted McCarrick’s resignation from the College of Cardinals in July 2018 and assigned him to “a life of prayer and penance” in a Kansas friary – an unenforceable seclusion. McCarrick is living in an “undisclosed” location of his own choosing.

Meanwhile, other bishops who’ve been sanctioned “are also enjoying relatively soft landings,” Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of – a website that documents the abuse crisis – said during a Crux interview. Furthermore, “the pope hasn’t uttered one public word of criticism against them. He should order a full public accounting of every bishop who is an enabler or an abuser or both. But I’m not optimistic that this will occur. I fear that the McCarrick report will be a one and done,” stated Barrett Doyle.

The release of the McCarrick report generated headlines in the U.S. mainstream media that, according to the Vatican’s account, Pope John Paul II was responsible for McCarrick’s decades-long career as the most influential American prelate by ignoring allegations over the years of the archbishop’s sexual activities. “Putting much of the blame on a dead pope is a convenient outcome for a living one,” wrote Joan Vennochi, a columnist for the Boston Globe, the newspaper whose 2002 reporting brought public awareness to the Church’s sexual torture of children. As Barrett Doyle told The Washington Post, Pope Francis’s “lack of curiosity” about the allegations against McCarrick “was at best negligent, at worst corrupt.”


On Oct. 21, headlines told us Pope Francis supports same-sex civil unions. “What we have to create is a civil union law. That way [homosexual people] are legally covered,” the pope said in a film that premiered that day. Since same-sex marriage is already legal in over 29 countries including the pope’s native Argentina according to the Human Rights Campaign, we were left to wonder who are the “we” who “have to create a civil union law” and where would they “create” this law?

As reported by Crux and others, in less than two weeks a letter dated Nov. 2 was sent from the Vatican to bishops’ conferences around the world stating that Pope Francis’ remarks on civil unions were taken out of context and that his position does not change Church teaching. As written in the Catechism, homosexual acts are gravely depraved and intrinsically disordered. “Under no circumstanced can they be approved.” Pope Francis could have changed the Catechism at any time, but never did.

The Crux report continued: “Although bishops’ conferences confirmed receiving the letter, it was unsigned and was not printed on official letterhead, which officials in some bishops’ conferences found strange for a document from the Secretariat of State. It is unknown who ordered the letter to be written and who sent it.” (emphasis mine).

Yet no news outlet, bishop or Catholic leader considered the missive to be anything other than the Vatican’s official position.


Next came the Nov. 23 headline: “Upcoming Pope Francis book ‘Let Us Dream’ backs George Floyd protests, blasts virus skeptics.” In his new book, “Pope Francis is supporting demands for racial justice in the wake of the U.S. police killing of George Floyd and is blasting COVID-19 skeptics and media organizations that spread their conspiracies …. Francis also criticizes populist politicians who whip up rallies in ways reminiscent of the 1930s,’” reported the Associated Press.

This is an interesting familiarity of current events in a foreign country for a pope who seemed unaware that “creating” a same-sex civil law had already been done. Additionally, on the eve of the May 2017 French presidential election, “all the pontiff could say when asked about the election was ‘I don’t know where [Emmanuel Macron] comes from’ and ‘I know there is a candidate from the strong right.’” After years as a high government official, Macron had been campaigning for president since the previous August. The other candidate, Marine Le Pen, president of the National Rally party since 2011, used Pope Francis’s comment “in a campaign rally to mock her opponent,” reported the Washington Post.

“Contrary to the pope’s vague statements, the National Front leader is not from the ‘strong’ right.” Le Pen “retains all of the marks of hatred of immigrants, nationalism and stigmatization of foreigners, Jews and ‘the other’ – now Muslims – that have always characterized the party …. Le Pen retains an inner core of advisers and officials who are Hitler admirers and Holocaust deniers like her father,” the Washington Post explained.

Pope Francis’s surprising knowledge of American current affairs is no doubt due to his book being “ghost-written by his English-language biographer, Austen Ivereigh. At times the prose and emphasis seems almost more Ivereigh’s than Francis’. That’s somewhat intentional – Ivereigh said he hopes a more colloquial English-speaking pope will resonate with English-speaking readers and believers,” reported the Associated Press.

Ivereigh, former editor of an international Catholic news weekly, partnered with Jack Valero of Opus Dei in 2010 to found Catholic Voices. “They formed a cadre of 24 smart, articulate lay Catholics and one priest, and gave them a six-month crash course in media literacy … Today, there are more than 20 Catholic Voices groups in Europe, North and South America and Australia,” reported Crux news.

“You people are doing amazing work in projecting a credible and attractive voice for the Church in the public square,” stated the author of the article, veteran Vatican reporter, John L. Allen Jr.  

Popes commonly have ghostwriters explained Sébastien Maillard, Vatican correspondent for a Catholic news service. Maillard noted that, in 2014, Pope Francis had sent a letter to the chair of the G20 summit “chastising unbridled consumerism” and “calling for policies against growing inequality.” The pope also sent a message to be read at the opening of the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting telling attendees they had a “responsibility” to “those who are most frail, weak and vulnerable.” He urged them to affect “a better distribution of wealth” and “the creation of sources of employment.” 

Mailard stated that Opus Dei priest, Monsignor Osvaldo Neves de Almeida, wrote both of the above.

United in Fealty to the Pope

“I pray that schisms do not happen, but I am not afraid of them,” Pope Francis said in September 2019. Especially in the U.S., the Catholic Church was “deeply divided” and “communion fractured” between pro-Francis liberals and anti-Francis conservatives as described by Church historian Massimo Faggioli. The deep divisions came after a 2015 synod of bishops.

As regards whether permission for divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion should be left to private consultation with their priest or bishop, two thirds of the synod attendees voted against changing the Church’s doctrine based on Jesus’ clear statements in Matthew 19:9, Mark 10:11 and Luke 6:18 that whoever remarries after a divorce is committing adultery.

Nevertheless, Pope Francis accused the bishops who voted against liberalizing the doctrine of having “closed hearts,” “blinkered viewpoints,” judging “sometimes with superiority and superficiality,” being cowardly and “burying their heads in the sand.”

“Many bishops and also cardinals whom I have dialogued with in private are pulling their hair out in disagreement. But they are afraid, silent, shutting up,” journalist Vittorio Messori wrote. “Many Catholics are concerned, some are even desperate about the current state of the Church,” he noted.

Catholic officials and leaders have left that all behind.

Catholic Voices is dedicated “to bridge the usual partisan divides in the Church,” Crux noted.

While participating in a June 2020 panel discussion on the new book, The Next Pope, Ross Douthat said the new pontiff should have the “ability to balance clarity of teaching with an ability to be engaged with where late modernity is going.” New York Times columnist Douthat is one of “the consequential figures in Catholic life,” a leader who “has influence and sets the terms of debate,” according to John L. Allen, Jr.

The author of the book, veteran Vatican reporter Edward Pentin, said that the papacy has become “more reflective of the Church as a global reality” and the role requires a pontiff “to be pretty media savvy.” 

Pope Francis’ annual Christmas message to Vatican bureaucrats “is one of his most important addresses of the year, as he typically uses the occasion to outline his thinking and vision for Church governance,” Crux correspondent Elise Ann Allen stated. This year the pope said: “When the Church is viewed in terms of conflict – right versus left, progressive versus traditionalist – she becomes fragmented and polarized.” The Church “must never become a body in conflict, with winners and losers, for in this way she would spread apprehension.”

The Next Conclave

“This might have been the year when Pope Francis would have seen his work completed,” Austin Ivereigh noted in a Nov. 26 article. “Instead, Covid-19 pitched the world into turmoil and darkness.”

The last ceremony when clerics are elevated to cardinal took place on Nov. 28. Those present were held in quarantine for 10 days in a Vatican hotel, “confined to their rooms on Vatican orders and getting meals delivered to their doors,” reported the Associated Press. Two of the new cardinals weren’t able to travel to Rome. “The Vatican arranged for them, and any of the cardinals who might not make it, to participate in the ceremony remotely from their homes,” the AP stated.

This isolation is not acceptable for the usual pre-conclave period following the resignation or death of a pope. Voting cardinals have always gathered in Rome for extensive meetings, dinners, and private gatherings.

“The great number, by now the majority, of those who [were elevated to cardinal by] Pope Francis, for the most part are men of the periphery, unfamiliar with one another, of limited experience in second-tier dioceses, more easily influenced,” veteran Vatican reporter Sandro Magister noted.

“I can report that the cardinals I know who’ve participated in a conclave were hungry for as much information as they could acquire, because they realized this was probably the single most important decision they’d ever make. They were grateful for reliable background or perspective that could inform their deliberations. That’s likely to be all the more true next time, given that so many of today’s cardinals don’t know one another well,” observed John L. Allen Jr,.

Even before the founding of Catholic Voices, Opus Dei had already dedicated themselves to the practice of effective communications. Their Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome added a School of Communications in 1996. Previously, the university had restricted itself to the usual ecclesial studies with Schools of Theology, Canon Law and Philosophy.

As noted on their website, the School of Communications students can earn undergraduate and post-graduate degrees by learning how to “shape public opinion” and how to portray the Church as “catalyst of cultural change” among other studies in successful communications

Cardinals “easily influenced” and “grateful for perspective” will be waiting in person during the next pre-conclave for help in “informing their deliberations.”

Betty Clermont is author of The Neo-Catholics: Implementing Christian Nationalism in America

*Opus Dei’s goal is power

For those who haven’t read my previous blogs, the Opus Dei website states its “mission is to spread the Christian message that every person is called to holiness and that every honest work can be sanctified.”  Non-Catholics are welcomed as “cooperators” who “assist the educational and social undertakings promoted by the Prelature.” All memberships are secret except if self-revealed.

Opus Dei is an official arm of the Catholic Church.

At the top, “Opus Dei is an efficient machine run to achieve world power,” stated investigative reporter Penny Lernoux in her book, People of God (1989).

“Opus Dei members control … a large number of banks and financial institutions,” Martin A. Lee, author of books and articles on far-right movements, wrote in 1983.

After “helping to install Karol Wojtyla as Pope John Paul II” (also here) he designated the group as a “personal prelature,” that is, they are under the sole jurisdiction of the pope and no other prelate. “Like a Mafia shrouded in white” Juan Martin Velasco, one of Spain’s leading theologians, described the prelature.

“Opus Dei uses the Catholic Church for its own ends which are money and power” Robert Hutchison stated in the introduction to his book, Their Kingdom Come: Inside the Secret World of Opus Dei (1997). “The problem is Opus Dei’s hidden power. [In practice] Opus Dei operates as it wishes, where it wishes, in total obscurity, with or without papal consent, unburdened by any form of oversight,” Hutchison stated.

In 2005, “there is a widespread group, and not only within the curia, campaigning for [Cardinal Joseph] Ratzinger as the next pope,” reported Sandro Magister. “In the Vatican, the Opus Dei cardinal most active in view of the conclave is Julián Herranz … Ratzinger’s leap to the top of the list of candidates for the papacy is due to him; it took shape at the suppers for cardinals that Herranz organized at Opus Dei’s heavily guarded villa in the Roman countryside, or at his new apartment behind St. Peter’s Square,” observed Magister.

In 2013, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio – who had come in second to Ratzinger in 2005 – was elected in large part due to the superior communication skills and media savvy of the U.S. episcopate.

Bergolio had been close to Opus Dei in Argentina and has made sure that the prelature continues to control Vatican finance.

The reasons Opus Dei wants to control the Vatican is documented in my last blog: Control of the Vatican: What’s at Stake The Catholic Church is the only religion headquartered in an autonomous country. The sovereignty of the Holy See – the name of the government of both the Vatican City State and the worldwide Church – provides criminal and civil immunity from any other authority to Vatican residents and government officials. 

The Vatican has immense wealth. How it is earned, how it is spent, who profits remain hidden because it is shielded by self-rule. Vatican officials’ access to global financial markets is facilitated by its status as a sovereign city/state.  

As officials of an independent nation, a pope and his appointees have access to, and some influence in, many international organizations.


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