Thursday, August 8, 2013

RNS puts a new twist on the "liberal Pope" trope — UPDATED

From Religion News Service ... of course:

Pope Francis is unsettling – and dividing – the Catholic right

 David Gibson

(RNS) For more than three decades, the Vatican of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI operated on a version of the conservative maxim, “No enemies to the right.”
While left-wing theologians were silenced and liberal-to-moderate bishops were shunted aside in favor of hard-liners [Oh, what a give-away!], liturgical traditionalists and cultural conservatives were diligently courted and given direct access to the apostolic palace.
But in a few short months, Pope Francis has upended that dynamic, alienating many on the Catholic right by refusing to play favorites and ignoring their preferred agenda items even as he stressed the kind of social justice issues that are near and dear to progressives. [To be fair, commentariat liberals aren't the only ones who conflate political conservativism with doctrinal orthodoxy and liturgical traditionalism.]
“I’ve personally found many aspects of this papacy to be annoying, and struggled against that feeling from the beginning. I’m hardly alone in this,” Jeffrey Tucker, editor of the New Liturgical Movement blog, wrote as Francis basked in the glow of media coverage of his recent trip to Brazil. [The name of Tucker's post? "The Tedious Press Narrative of Pope Francis". That, my friends, is irony; it's as if Gibson were blindly determined to illustrate Tucker's point.]
“Every day and in every way we are being told how glorious it is that the bad old days are gone and the new good days are here,” he lamented.
Tucker and other traditionalists who are dedicated to high church rituals have been especially miffed at Francis’ simple — they might say simplistic [then again, they might not] — style since the moment the former Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio was introduced to the world as the new pope back in March.
“How can I love a Pope who doesn’t even want to be Pope?” Katrina Fernandez, a popular conservative blogger, wrote in a column about her disillusionment. [Kat commented, "I'm a little flattered the author referred to me a popular blogger. Puzzled at the label 'conservative'. And annoyed that my one flipping post is being used to paint me as a pope hater."]

The rest of Gibson's piece doesn't rise above this level: remark after remark is taken out of context and spun into an illusion of massive conservative disaffection with Pope Francis. Pat Archbold had a lot of fun with this trope in his National Catholic Register blog, relating ten quotes that prove the pope is a liberal — but waitaminnit! the quotes are from Pope Benedict! [Sorry for the spoiler, folks. Read it anyway; it might just change your mind about Papa Bene.]

 Consider the recent furore over the Pope's comment (taken, again, out of context), "If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge that person?" The commentariat went nuts: At long last, the Pope is going to junk the Church's outdated, homophobic sexual teachings!

But what does the Catechism of the Catholic Church say? It says that "[homosexuals] must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition" (CCC 2358).

And who, as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and president of the Interdicasterial Commission for the Catechism of the Catholic Church, was most proximately responsible for allowing this teaching into print? Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, lka Pope Benedict XVI. What did Pope Francis say that Benedict XVI and Bl. John Paul didn't approve?

Yeah, sure, there are some Catholics, mostly SSPX sympathizers and extreme TLM devotés, who are convinced Francis' papacy means the end ... but then, they didn't like B16 or JP2, either. By contrast, other traditionalists, such as Dr. Taylor Marshall and the inestimable Fr. John Zuhlsdorf, are quite happy with Francis at the helm. And you really have to read Kat's post to understand why she's annoyed; it has absolutely nothing to do with Francis' supposed progressivist bent and everything to do with her spiritual dependence on the beauty and symbolism of the papal finery that Francis has so far laid aside. As she herself says, "Boy, oh man! Lord knows, I really do want to love this guy."

Pope Francis isn't dividing Catholic conservatives; heck, we weren't exact homogeneous to begin with. There's no definition or classification of "traditionalist" or "conservative" I could give you that people wouldn't blow up my combox to dispute.

You watch. By this time next year, the media will have figured it out. Then you won't hear so much about Francis' humility and love for the poor; he'll simply be another old, reactionary man who puts a happy face on homophobia and repression of women, yadda-yadda-yadda — a smile, a pair of black shoes, and nothing more. And many will go to great lengths to pretend that they were never fooled by that joyful, engaging mug, not one little bit.

Let's let Jeff Tucker have the closing words:

The narrative of Benedict XVI was that he was a closed-minded reactionary dedicated to cracking down and turning back the clock. After that, nothing else mattered. It didn't matter how much he reached out, how much he liberalized the ritual, how much he displayed openness, praised religious freedom, called for social justice and the like. The narrative stuck.
So it has been with Francis. The press decided early on that he is humble, spontaneous, liberal, broad, pro-poor, tolerant, and ready to revise doctrine. After that, the fix was in. Everything he does is interpreted in that light. Every headline presumes that underlying template. It's the only story. Everything that contradicts that is thrown out, and every utterance is framed in that preset context. ...
In many ways, I feel bad for Pope Francis. He is no more allowed to escape this spin that we are. Just remember that he doesn't write the stories, and he didn't set out to design this template for himself. It's not even clear that he knows that this is happening or what he could do about it if he did.

UPDATE: August 9, 2013

Jeffrey Tucker has since posted a follow-up, which you can read here. I just had to mention the title: "And that's precisely my point"!