Thursday, March 14, 2013

Too Catholic? Not Catholic enough?—UPDATED

So what do I think of our new pontiff, Francis?

It's funny — within two hours of his election I started seeing both sides try to claim him for their own, then two hours later I began seeing both sides damn him as belonging to the other side!

That having been said, it's tough to get a read on Francis. It goes beyond a "son of Ignatius" — a Jesuit — naming himself not after a co-founder of his own order, St. Francis Xavier, but after the founder of the mendicant Friars Minor, St. Francis of Assisi.  

He quotes Henri de Lubac, a contemporary of Teilhard de Chardin and presumed an influence in Vatican II (thus making him near schismatic in the eyes of traditionalists). As provincial for Argentina, according to John L. Allen, Jr., he resisted the movement towards liberation theology and insisted on a more traditional reading of Ignatian spirituality — not a plus in the eyes of the "Spirit of Vatican II" crowd.

He's on record as having openly and vocally opposed abortion and euthanasia, which was apparently forceful enough to warrant a rebuke from the Argentinian government as "ideological malfeasance" ... but not forceful enough for Marcelo González of Panorama Católico Internacional, who says "he has not fought against abortion and only very weakly against homosexual 'marriage'" ... which Francis called a "destructive pretension against the plan of God ... a machination of the Father of Lies that seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God." He has also ministered to AIDS victims and drug addicts as part of his episcopal duties.

In other words: Too Catholic for the progressives, not Catholic enough for the traditionalists. So probably just right for me.


This could be good or could be bad. On the one hand, Papa Bergoglio doesn't have a publication record to speak of, unlike JP2 and (especially) B16. He taught philosophy at the Facultades de Filosofía y Teología de San Miguel in Buenos Aires, but that doesn't necessarily bespeak the depth or breadth of thought of his predecessors; one of González's nastier attacks runs thus: "Famous for his inconsistency (at times, for the unintelligibility of his addresses and homilies), accustomed to the use of coarse, demagogical, and ambiguous expressions, it cannot be said that his magisterium is heterodox, but rather non-existent for how confusing it is."

On the other, considering the exaggeration and incomplete truthfulness of some of González's other charges, it may very well be that González and other traddies don't like him because he won't or can't pronounce "Shibboleth" (Jdg 12:5-6). Francis fought only "very weakly" against same-sex marriage because the pro-SSM forces won; had he been a traditionalist in spirit and truth, his words would have forced all of Argentina to say, "Oh! Now we get it!" and promptly abandon the initiative. At least, that's how I think the argument goes; I'm still trying to figure out how "machination of the Father of Lies" could be taken as too namby-pamby.

So here's my take, and I'm putting it in print so we can come back after five years or so and see how close or far off I am today:

Pope Francis won't undo Summorum Pontificum. But neither will he go further to re-establish the Latin Mass as the ordinary form, not because he's against the TLM but because he'll have other fish to fry. At the same time, people who want more "participation" in the Mass, further blurring the line between people and clergy, should not put their lives on hold for it; Francis has already indicated that he believes "clericalization of the laity" to be a bad idea.

Look for him to continue to pursue dialogue with other Christian communions, probably in manners that will scandalize the trads, as well as speak on social justice topics in ways that will irk free-market Catholics. But don't look for him to open up the priesthood to women or to abandon clerical celibacy. Will he be able to clean up the Vatican? On that, I have my doubts ... but that's for another time. Don't expect him to write profound essays — expect him to cast fire upon the earth.

What we have here is not another John Paul II or Benedict XVI — so much his name tells us. What he will be is hard to pigeonhole. But it won't be anything any of the Wise Persons expect.

Ad multos annos, Papa!

Update: March 14, 2012

Kudos to Dr. Taylor Marshall and Fr. John Zuhlsdorf for reading the Riot Act to those traditionalists who give traditionalists such a bad rep. Here are partial quotes from both.

Doctor Marshall:

Way to go, trads! We have been working so hard under the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI to demonstrate that we are not an inbred subculture of angry, hateful, quasi-schismatic, Jansenistic, holier-than-the-Pope Catholics. Everyone thinks that we who attend the 1962 liturgy are judgmental, Pharisaical, and rude (click here for details). And guess what. You just amplified that terrible reputation one hundredfold. It seems that their contrarian words were spoken in the heat of passion — and the stirred up passions are the devil's playground. 
After reading comments on my blog and other blogs (especially Rorate Caeli), I am really embarrassed by it all. I felt obligated to clean up the comment box on my blog, but fortunately others have done a good job silencing the angry voices.

And the ever-forthright Father Z:

I won’t stand for bashing the new Pope here.  It isn’t going to happen in my combox.  You are NOT welcome to come into my living room and have a spittle-flecked nutty like whining liberals do whenever Catholic teaching and discipline is reaffirmed.  I don’t expect “papolatry”.  I ask for respect and decorum when concerns or disagreements are expressed.
If it turns out that our new Pope starts us down a path you or I don’t like, then we will discuss those matters as they come along.  But … how long has he been Pope?
Look.  We all have to get to know Francis.  He has to get to know himself now, too!  Pray for him.
If you are tempted to panic and bash Pope Francis in my combox, summon to your imagination the voice of a Marine Corps Captain to the company: “What is that banana peel doing on MY SIDEWALK?”
 I have plenty of respect for the traditional Latin Mass, and would even like to attend at least one before I die. But I've seen some ugly, uncharitable and disrespectful nonsense printed about Papa Bergoglio and just about anyone else who doesn't do the TLM just so or who has any affinity for the Novus Ordo Mass. This is no way to persuade the unwilling or convince the skeptical.

I for one take it as a very positive sign that, on his first full day after his election, Francis chose to pray at the tomb of Pope St. Pius V at Santa Maria Maggiore; it was St. Pius V who made the Tridentine Mass the ordinary form throughout the West, along with other needed actions that kicked off the Counter-Reformation (in my mind, the real Reformation, Protestantism being rather a revolt).

Like both men have said, traditionalists should wait and see what Francis actually does (or doesn't do) concerning the Latin Mass, instead of turning into a bunch of Chicken Littles with Tourette's syndrome.

Lighten up, guys. Have a little faith.