The Gates of Hell shall not prevail, but perhaps it will be a close-run thing. This unpleasant thought occurred, hardly for the first time, in reading the latest rumours and “analyses” (it is getting harder to tell them apart) from the Vatican watchers. My worst fear, or rather, my worst fear that could be expressed in crisp broad strokes of black on white, is that the current Pope might, in his characteristically spontaneous way, suddenly convoke another ecumenical council and, “in the spirit of Vatican II,” announce a “Vatican III.” Under present circumstances, I cannot think of a bigger catastrophe: one so likely to provoke open civil war of the kind we previewed last October. Imagine the effect of a sprawling, hugely publicized convention, going on for years, at which national and regional factions within the Church tear each other apart, in response to the manipulations of a highly politicized, consciously organized, and papally blessed group of “modernizers.”

My unstated fear began with a reading of Evangelii Gaudium — the apostolic exhortation published in November 2013, which was lauded in liberal media as the Pope’s “wake-up call,” and can be read as a personal agenda for the Church. Traditional themes for such exhortations were included, and there were standard references to Scripture, and to Fathers and Doctors of the Church — but these were remarkably thin and often put into strange contexts. I was distressed by the conversational style, and the amount of trite and “progressive” rubbish on economic and social questions far beyond the papal remit. I was alarmed by a slovenly ecumenism, effectively proposing to “dumb down” Church teaching for mission purposes; by persistent deference to agencies of the State; and by the casual disparagement of traditional worship. While most such statements were qualified, in light of received doctrine, I could see where the emphases were and what was being rhetorically privileged. In moments it was as if the Church were to become a kind of holier-than-thou NGO; and I could imagine what would happen if such prescriptions were presented to another ecumenical council.

In Andrea Gagliarducci’s usually informative Monday blog, I read yesterday of rumours that, “a first draft for the announcement of a Third Vatican Council is circulating.” I pray this is untrue.

The Pope can have no intention of altering Church doctrine, to suit the times. But I reflect that this is the inevitable consequence of delivering “pastoral policy” into the hands of voracious “reformers” with their own unmistakably worldly aspirations. Should the focus of the Church be redirected from Jesus Christ to “the poor” — defined in strictly material terms — most of the institution would collapse as quickly as it did in e.g. Argentina.

Indeed, as across Latin America, the poor will be the first people leaving, for exactly the reasons they gave recently to Pew pollsters. Asked why they had abandoned Holy Church for various Evangelical sects, the most common first answer was consistently: “seeking a more personal connexion with God.” And if one looks through other answers, one finds reproach of a hierarchy too closely tied to the civil powers. Radically increasing the Church’s participation in worldly, agenda-driven causes, at the unavoidable expense of “traditional” spiritual concerns, is only a way to enlarge the plughole.

People do not come to church looking for social science lectures. They come seeking Christ. Of course the current Pope knows this in his heart, and says it aloud often enough, but says it among many other things that contradict or distract from it. These may make a splash and be popular for a time, but only among people who will demand ever more concessions. At the end of the day a man whose stomach feels empty has a heart that feels empty, too: a heart that Christ alone can fill.

Let us hope that all of my information is wrong, all of my inferences are misconstrued, and all of my fears are illusory.

And meanwhile, Saint Sebastian of the arrows, pray for us.