In March 2022, a memorandum entitled “The Vatican Today” appeared and was widely circulated. Sharply critical of the Francis pontificate, it was signed by an anonymous source described as “Demos.” The author was subsequently identified as the late Cardinal George Pell. Last week a similar document, “The Vatican Tomorrow,” appeared simultaneously in six different languages. It was signed, again anonymously, by a source identifying as “Demos II.” It’s unclear who the actual authors are. But at least one cardinal and various senior bishops seem to have been involved.

The text is worth reading. All of it. Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-Kiun, Hong Kong’s retired archbishop and a man who’s had frictions on matters of principle with both the current pontificate and the Chinese government, posted the document on his social media. It drew more than 125,000 views in the first 48 hours.

Unlike the original Demos text, “The Vatican Tomorrow” acknowledges the strengths of the Francis papacy noted elsewhere by others: “the added emphasis [Francis] has given to compassion toward the weak, outreach to the poor and marginalized, concern for the dignity of creation and the environmental issues that flow from it, and efforts to accompany the suffering and alienated in their burdens.”

The new text also argues, as do others, that the flaws of the current pontificate “are equally obvious” and serious, with damaging effect. As a result, “the task of the next pontificate must therefore be one of recovery and reestablishment of truths that have been slowly obscured or lost among many Christians.” Which leads into the seven points that comprise the substance of the text, all of them worth quoting here:

First: Real authority is damaged by authoritarian means in its exercise. The Pope is a Successor of Peter and the guarantor of Church unity. But he is not an autocrat. He cannot change Church doctrine, and he must not invent or alter the Church’s discipline arbitrarily. He governs the Church collegially with his brother bishops in local dioceses. And he does so always in faithful continuity with the Word of God and Church teaching. “New paradigms” and “unexplored new paths” that deviate from either are not of God. A new Pope must restore the hermeneutic of continuity in Catholic life and reassert Vatican II’s understanding of the papacy’s proper role.

Second: Just as the Church is not an autocracy, neither is she a democracy. The Church belongs to Jesus Christ. She is his Church. She is Christ’s Mystical Body, made up of many members. We have no authority to refashion her teachings to fit more comfortably with the world. Moreover, the Catholic sensus fidelium is not a matter of opinion surveys nor even the view of a baptized majority. It derives only from those who genuinely believe and actively practice, or at least sincerely seek to practice, the faith and teachings of the Church.

Third: Ambiguity is neither evangelical nor welcoming. Rather, it breeds doubt and feeds schismatic impulses. The Church is a community not just of Word and sacrament, but also of creed. What we believe helps to define and sustain us. Thus, doctrinal issues are not burdens imposed by unfeeling “doctors of the law.” Nor are they cerebral sideshows to the Christian life. On the contrary, they’re vital to living a Christian life authentically, because they deal with applications of the truth, and the truth demands clarity, not ambivalent nuance. From the start, the current pontificate has resisted the evangelical force and intellectual clarity of its immediate predecessors. The dismantling and repurposing of Rome’s John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family and the marginalizing of texts like Veritatis Splendor suggest an elevation of “compassion” and emotion at the expense of reason, justice, and truth. For a creedal community, this is both unhealthy and profoundly dangerous….

Read the entire article by Francis X. Maier in First Things