Recent muscular moves by the Vatican are more deeply significant than you probably realize.
In April Pope Benedict xvi finished the seventh year of his papacy with several bold, polarizing actions that point to the Roman Catholic Church’s future direction.
When he became pope in 2005, the German-born Joseph Ratzinger was expected by liberals and conservatives alike to be a tough authoritarian. After all, he was the church’s chief doctrinal enforcer, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He was the “Panzerkardinal”—“God’s Rottweiler.”
Then came seven years of what many perceived as a relatively quiet papacy. Now, though, perceptions are beginning to revert back. In increasingly obvious ways, Benedict’s Rome is snuffing out dissent, stamping out liberalism and enforcing its brand of conservative Catholicism. Headlines are becoming common about the reemergence of the “real Ratzinger” and the “Return of the Rottweiler.”
Last month, during his “Holy Thursday” homily, the pope publicly rebuked a prominent group of hundreds of dissident priests and deacons in heavily Catholic Austria. These church leaders have openly supported women’s ordination and opposed priestly celibacy, and Benedict has had enough. The Vatican also announced it was investigating a handful of Irish priests for their liberal views. One priest was banished to a monastery; others are being censored; another who has been openly critical of the church’s mishandling of child sex abuse scandals is no longer allowed to print articles.
Two weeks ago, the Vatican released a stingingly corrective “doctrinal assessment” of the organization representing most of America’s 57,000 nuns. It accused that group, the Leadership Conference for Women Religious (lcwr), of “corporate dissent” and corruption by “radical feminism”; it condemned the group for drifting from Catholic teaching on homosexual marriage, abortion, women’s ordination and other issues. Now, the lcwr will essentially be on probation for up to five years as conservative bishops scrutinize its practices, supervise its meetings and investigate its ties to various politically active groups.
Predictably, in a libertine world deeply hostile to authority, such moves generate a lot of backlash. (Especially among independent-minded Americans: They called the crackdown on nuns heart-breaking, stunning, mind-boggling.) The pope doesn’t care. He is making his stand and daring people to challenge him. Stepping out and castigating his critics for being out of step.
Meanwhile—in fact, on the very same day it cracked down on the lcwr—the Vatican revealed it is about to strike a deal with a fringe group of disassociated ultra-traditionalist Catholics that could bring them back into communion with Rome. This controversial group, Society of St. Pius X, broke away two decades ago out of opposition to changes in the church that followed the Second Vatican Council—and the pope wants them back.
The simultaneous clampdown on liberal American nuns and embrace of ultra-conservatives is a telling sign. As the National Catholic Reporter wrote, “In tandem with Benedict’s 2009 decision to welcome traditionalist Anglicans, it’s tempting to conclude that his policy amounts to accommodating dissent on the right and squelching it on the left” (emphasis added).
Looking at these events, the ncr drew this conclusion: “The ‘German Shepherd,’ it would seem, still has some bite.”
On one level, anyone sickened or angered by the world’s deplorable moral decline would find such conviction admirable. However, this is not just anyone, or any organization. This is the pope. This is the Universal Church. With a billion believers and nearly two millennia of portentous history behind it.
In recent years Rome has labored to strengthen and fulfill its fundamental missionary purpose: to bring other churches’ teachings in line with Roman Catholicism; specifically, to get them to acknowledge and unite under the authority of the pope. Benedict xvi is focused on reviving the historic imperative of the church’s universality.
To better understand the significance of Rome’s recent assertiveness, one must view it in the context of the church’s historical attempts to establish its universality. This is a church with global ambition. And frankly, those periods where it has most aggressively exercised its influence have been some of mankind’s darkest.
However, even looking just at this history only provides a partial view. To really see what is taking place, one must also look through the lens of biblical prophecy.
The Roman Catholic Church holds a monumental place in the Bible’s narrative of end-time events. It is described as ascending to once again attain a position of influence such as it has had at several points in its past, uniting with world leaders, summoning armies under the banner of the cross, using its spiritual clout to steer the political and military might of nations into helping it accomplish its goals. Scripture actually portrays this church as a woman sitting on “many waters,” signifying a globalist reign.
It also, shockingly, depicts the church as a beast—but with a twist. It will not appear as a beast: It looks like a lamb—innocent, just and righteous in the eyes of most people. It projects itself as being like the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. This, however, is the worst possible deception: It speaks like a dragon (Revelation 13:11)—and it is what comes out of the mouth that reveals the true nature of the heart.
You need to prove these prophecies—and believe them. They expose what is truly happening on today’s world scene. They show God’s view of the Catholic Church and other major players on the political and religious stage, and reveal how He is shaping events to fulfill His purposes.
The Vatican’s recent muscularity is only the beginning. Watch closely: This thing is going to grow. Believe it or not, it threatens to shake the world!
Correction: An earlier version of this article erroneously defined “apostolic succession” as the belief in the transfer of authority from the Apostle Peter to the pope; in actuality this authority is believed to have been given to all the church’s bishops, not merely the Bishop of Rome. ▪