Lost Shepherd

by Philip Lawler, Regnery, 202pp, £20

The light show has perhaps been the most jarring episode of Francis’s pontificate, if of little ultimate theological significance. In 2015, in connection with the encyclical Laudato Si’, St Peter’s became the canvas for projections of various environmental scenes meant to highlight the responsibility humans have for our planet.

Laudato Si’ developed the themes of Francis’s predecessors concerning our stewardship of God’s creation. But the light show was something different. It was sponsored by secular foundations, some of which have no sympathy for the Church’s religious mission, and the ancient façade of the papal church was used as a front for the secular cause of environmentalism. (Some have made similar claims about Vatican approval of this year’s Met Gala, devoted to the “Catholic imagination”.)

Lawler, a veteran Catholic journalist with extensive sources, cites this example as a sign of the confused messages coming from Pope Francis. Many Catholics looked at this pontificate with large reserves of hope for its success, and were willing to accept the expected adjustments in papal style or emphasis.

Francis had sparked controversy from the day he was elected St Peter’s successor. But, Lawler argues, the debate eventually became so intense, confusion among the faithful so widespread, administration at the Vatican so arbitrary and the Pope’s diatribes against his (real or imagined) foes so manic, that today the universal Church is rushing towards a crisis.

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