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Monday, October 07, 2013

And where from here?

I've come to the conclusion that, regardless of the actual temporal length (and may God grant Pope Francis many healthy years), this is going to be a loooooong papacy.

1. The first problem is what my crisis buddy Elliot colorfully describes as "soft ultramontanism." To which I will add "by reflex."

This manifests itself in instant circle-the-wagons mentality against any criticism. Sorry, Mark, but this is emblematic. The fact that Scalfari didn't take notes is majoring in minors. No less an authority than the Vatican itself offers the interview for perusal on the official website.

That strikes me as a sotto voce endorsement of its accuracy. Not very sotto, in fact. More like a megaphone admission.

Also, it seems to me that criticism from such respectable non-fringe figures as Fr. Germain Grisez, fellow Jesuit James Schall and the very level-headed Carl Olson deserve a hearing. Ditto Robert Royal, who was clearly thrown by the first interview.

In other words, those who "get Francis" need to try to understand those of us who don't. And, yeah, I don't.

Frankly, the most evident fruit of the papacy thus far seems to be the willingness of orthodox Catholics to break out the cutlery and start stabbing whenever someone expresses unease over the Pope's actions and words.

2. The substantive criticisms are worthy of consideration.

Arguments like "the Pope is acting just like Jesus" or "you're just like the elder brother in the Prodigal Son!" aren't really arguments: they're declarations of the speaker's moral superiority, QEDs that are supposed to batter the benighted sinner on the other side into repentance. Quite simply, they won't do.

That said, I'll limit myself to two examples of problematic statements by the Pope from each interview. First, his quote about the Gregorian/Extraordinary Form Mass:

The Tridentine Mass was meant for those who could not make the transition from Latin to English [or other languages] after the Council.

Oh, no, I'm sorry--that was Roger Cardinal Mahony, not the Pope. Still, the despicable, Hell-ish Mahony is a big fan, I think we have to admit. Not that I blame the Pope for that. Bad people can like you, and there's nothing you can do about it. Manson and the Beatles.

No, what the Pope actually said was:

I think the decision of Pope Benedict [his decision of July 7, 2007, to allow a wider use of the Tridentine Mass] was prudent and motivated by the desire to help people who have this sensitivity. 

Honestly, Mahony's contrafactual take was the first thing that leapt to mind when I read the Pope's words on the "Vetus Ordo" (a telling formulation in itself). The dismissive mindsets are certainly kissing cousins. Throw in the Pope's repeated jabs at Pelagianism, Rosary bouquets, "restorationism" and the like, and it's clear he's not a good friend of the old Mass nor of traditionalists in general.

Yes, the Pope had a bad experience with jackhole traditionalists in the Argentine. I readily accept that that would legitimately poison fair-minded people against the proponents of and possible spiritual fruits of the old liturgy. It would me. Straining at gnats doesn't begin to describe it.

But here's the thing: we've been told--in yet another of the many declarations of moral superiority by his myriad defenders--that the Church is bigger than the concerns and experiences of American Catholics. True enough. But likewise: She is also bigger than the concerns and experiences of the even smaller population of Argentine Catholics. Even those experienced by the Archbishop Emeritus of Buenos Aires. The traditionalists I know and rub elbows with, that my children weekly attend co-op with, haven't disappeared human rights activists, nor cheered the work of a fascist state. They are struggling to pay bills and raise children in our increasingly dysfunctional economy and culture, driving long distances to pray, share and teach such things as art, Latin, and literature, and I imagine much the same obtains among traditionalist communities worldwide.

Frankly, the Pope's take on the Extraordinary Form discounts entirely the rich theological work of Benedict XVI explaining why the older rite is important, and should be widely celebrated. The break in the continuity is obvious on this point. And it is a source of legitimate concern.

The second example is the notorious "Catholic God" statement in the second interview:

And I believe in God, not in a Catholic God, there is no Catholic God, there is God and I believe in Jesus Christ, his incarnation. Jesus is my teacher and my pastor, but God, the Father, Abba, is the light and the Creator. This is my Being.

Hoo, boy. First of all, substitute "Christian" for "Catholic," and you start to cringe, right? You'd better.

Honestly, I think it is only because we have an ecumenism-of-self-flagellation, one that regards any hint of "triumphalism" as the sin against the Holy Spirit, that more people didn't cringe at the actual formulation. If you are Catholic, you believe in the God revealed in and through the Catholic Church, one that has defined numerous formulae about God, Christ and the Holy Spirit, pondered and filtered by numerous saints and a protective magisterium, about how to understand the Triune God, going so far as to defend them at the cost of martyrdom. If you don't accept that, you are not Catholic. Full stop. As Elliot pointed out in a discussion on Facebook, the Pope's formulation wades into some dangerous riptides, providing ammunition for an argument against the Church herself.

3. The final analysis from my perspective:

For the love of God and His Saints, no more stream of consciousness interviews. EVER.

There are many things I appreciate about this Pope--preaching Christ, reaching out of the bubble to touch people, especially going into impoverished areas, pointing out the corrosive evil of unemployment (even if it's far from the worst of evils--yeesh) and its ripple effects on the family and even family formation, the choice of a simple lifestyle (though Benedict was far from opulent, contrary to the popular false meme), his prayer life, his joyousness and ability to connect with people. All to the good.

But his undisciplined, erratic streak keeps me from embracing and trusting him. I'm getting older, and I need a steady hand at the wheel. Apart from the substance in the interviews, the problems are many: the unnecessary jabs at decent Catholics, and the failure to recognize the harm that it causes. The offhand dismissals of his predecessors' work. The empowering of the stripped-altar left. The promises of big change, and the horizontal emphasis unnerves me greatly. He's in the same position now as Pope Paul VI after the leak of the Majority Report endorsing birth control in 1967: expectations--feverish ones--are rising, and the backlash will be brutal when/if he disappoints. I wonder if he fully understands the nature of the expectations (declarations of humility aside) and the demands that will follow. Riding the tiger is easy--compared to the dismount.

For my part, he's the Pope. I'll pray for him and offer filial respect. But I'm going to gird myself and my loved ones with Tradition, and I'm not remotely going to try to defend every stray sentence that comes out of his mouth or pen. Down that path lay madness, and in my case, despair. The Papacy is not one long run-on infallible monologue, and can't be defended as such. At least, it shouldn't.

If that approach leaves me as easy insult-bait, the target of Gospel proof-texting, snarky assaults and the like--whatever. There are worse fates.

Like the loss of faith.


  1. And where from here? My question is: where is here? The very ground I am standing on is constantly changing, and not just because of this pope, but for decades now.

    It is strange, isn't it? The press cherry picked, took out of constext, misinterpreted and misquoted Benedict, and hated him for the words they put in his mouth. They are doing the same for Francis, only they love him for their words. But I gotta admit: I agree with those who say he is making it very easy on them.

    Remember back shortly after Francis was elected and he said he didn't do interviews? Yeah, that was awesome.

  2. Waiting for Mark Shea to call you a foaming mouthed fanatic having a spittle-flecked nutty in 3...2...1...or do you and you alone get a pass from him? He has been profoundly uncharitable to everyone else who expresses even the slightest concern over the Pope's words.

  3. Good post but one point - Germaine Grizes is a layman not a priest.

    God bless

  4. I think the people who have trouble with understanding Pope Francis take his statements in an objective intellectual way, when the speech is a practical, personal way geared to a how a particular addressee thinks, having listened to find that out. Also, they forget the difference between contradictions and contraries, as the latter are compatible, whereas the former are not. Note that almost every time he says something that puzzles people doctrinally, almost the next sentence or next day he reiterates the traditional teaching. Remember also that discernment is the particular gift to the Church from St. Ignatius and this has been a habit for a lifetime for the Holy Father, and discernment has to do with practical decisions not speculative statements. I even detect a prophetic aspect of coming events in his actions and words. Patriarch Bartholomew I was astonished to realize that the "gang of eight" cardinal advisors is equivalent to how the patriarchate operates. That presages the reunion of the Apostolic Churches of the East which the Era of Peace following the Great Crisis of conflict with evil in the near future predicted prophetically for centuries and foreseen by John Paul II will see One Shepherd and One Flock. We may well see the end of the Papacy at Rome and it transferred to another place for the final run up to the Second Coming such as to Jerusalem from where it originated. Remember that four times Our Lord told St. Faustina that the Divine Mercy Revelation was to prepare the Church and world for His Second Coming, which could last some centuries in a MUCH reduced humanity (St Pio said 3/4th of the human race would be gone for this period's beginning!)Definitely a new stage in the Church's journey through time towards Eternity is just ahead of us. Pope Francis must be seen in this very large context. Like Our Lord's disturbing sayings it is the authenticity of his person and deeds that confirms the Holy Father is on the track the Holy Spirit is creating.

  5. You are right, Chris. D'oh!

    And I remember reading that, too.