Don't count paleoconservative pundit Pat Buchanan as a friend of Pope Francis.
In his latest syndicated column, the longtime social conservative scold lambastes Francis for sowing "confusion among the faithful" with his criticism of the "hostile rigidity" of "so-called traditionalists" in the Roman Catholic Church. The pope's remarks came at the close of a Vatican synod on the family last week. The original draft of the synod's report made waves by stating that the church should be "welcoming" of gay people, who, the document said, have "gifts and qualities to offer the Christian community." But following a conservative uproar, the final document omitted the reference to "welcoming" gays and instead stated that they should be treated with "respect and sensitivity." Francis' sharply worded closing remarks suggested to many observers that he lamented the change.
And that's why Buchanan is up in arms. Responding to the pope's jab at "hostile" traditionalists, Buchanan writes, "That is one way of putting it. Another is that traditionalists believe moral truth does not change, nor can Catholic doctrines be altered."
"Even a pope cannot do that," Buchanan adds, in what reads more like a threat than an interpretation of theology.
So what if Francis throws his weight behind a fundamental shift in doctrine at next year's synod?
"Should such be attempted, the pope would be speaking heresy," Buchanan declares. "And as it is Catholic doctrine that the pope is infallible, that he cannot err when speaking ex cathedra on faith and morals, this would imply that Francis was not a valid pope and the chair of Peter is empty."
Noting that Francis hasn't yet changed the church's doctrine on homosexuality, Buchanan contends that he has nevertheless damaged the church by muddying the waters with all this talk of inclusiveness and openness.
"While Francis I has nether denied not sought to change any doctrine, Cardinal Burke [a leading Catholic conservative] is correct," Buchanan writes. "The pope has 'done a lot of harm.' He has created confusion among the faithful and is soon going to have to speak with clarity on the unchanging truths of Catholicism."
Should Pat's beloved Catholic Church start to go wobbly, however, he may have an alternative. Last year, Buchanan lavished praise on Russian President Vlaidmir Putin for his country's draconian anti-gay crackdown, lauding Putin for "trying to re-establish the Orthodox Church as the moral compass of the nation."