Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Franciscan Revolution

Youth and World Youth Day: Evil is only in the
eye of the beholder
Well the Katholic wing-nuts have gone into open despair over Pope Francis as his trip to World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro ended with some remarkable bangs.  The right-wing has always been skeptical about World Youth Day as it is the occasion for youth to be, well, youth and that sort of freedom of the children of God is just a bit more than they can handle.  And when you finish up with a Mass on the beach at Copacabana, well, expect kids to be kids.  And Pope Francis loved it, every minute of it.  It all comes down to one’s point of view: do we live in a world where the ultimate mystery is Grace or where the ultimate mystery is Sin?  The influence of Jansenism on the religious conservatives has convinced them that depravity rules and Grace is but a Band-Aid for those who are to be saved.  Francis, on the other hand, seems to see the world as the unfolding of the mystery of Grace and does not presume the worst about people.  That is a bit of a change from the dour tone of his predecessor.  In some ways, Francis seems to be John Paul I redivivus.  The one month of that smiling Pope with his fresh and happy outlook was far too short a break between the anguished Paul VI and the Slavic Sulk and German Reich that followed.   
Catholic neo-trads organized their own parallel World Youth Day in Rio to run simultaneously with the papal events.  Juventutem Niteroi of the quasi-Diocese (Apostolic Administration) of Campos Brazil.  While massive crowds were gathering about Pope Francis for the official liturgies and programs of World Youth Day, the alternative program, led by Bishop Fernando Rifan, celebrated Mass in the Extraordinary Form and held a series of catechetical sessions in which Bishop Rifan and priests of the Apostolic Administration  taught Catholic doctrine with the neo-traditionalist twist.  The Campos program drew about two thousand youth and sponsors; Pope Francis drew two million.  Go Francis!  Let’s hear it for bringing back Vatican II.  

The Alternative Program for Neo-Trads:
the Prelate of Campos Celebrates the Old Rite
Shortly before Francis went to Brazil the Vatican Congregation responsible for religious orders, with the express authorization of the Pope, limited the use of the Extra-ordinary Form (Tridentine Mass) among a neo-traditionalist group of Franciscans, the Franciscans of the Immaculate.    The friars had been using both the “old Mass” and the “new Mass,” but apparently a decision by their leadership decided that in their monasteries they would use only the Extraordinary Form.  This displeased some of the friars who, though conservative, favor the revised liturgy.  Apparently the situation quickly devolved into a serious split in the community and the Congregation for the Consecrated Life stepped in and appointed an outside commissioner—a Capuchin Franciscan—to take temporary control of the Friars and at the same time restricted use of the Extraordinary Form.  According the guidelines individual friars and communities may apply for permission to use the Extraordinary Form but ordinarily the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite must be used.  Neo-trads were appalled as this would seem to limit the wide freedoms given by Benedict XVI in his motu prorprio,  Summorum Pontificium.  Francis is known to be no friend of the older Rite and this step can be seen as the first step in withdrawing the free and easy access of priests to the Tridentine Mass.  
As if that wasn’t bad news enough for the neo-trad wing-nuts, Francis on his return flight to Rome signaled a remarkable change of direction both to Gay and Lesbian Catholics and to Catholics who have married outside the Church.  Francis certainly did not endorse same-sex relationships, but when asked about gay priests said:  If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?"  Who am I to judge???  This drives the neo-trads right up the wall.  If the Pope can’t judge, then how can they?  And if they can’t judge then what use is religion after all.  The main point of religion for them is to know that they are better than everyone else.  Francis went on to suggest that the Church needs to reexamine its policy of banning those who are married outside the Church, and specifically those who have remarried after a divorce without obtaining a Church annulment, from Holy Communion.  Several other churchmen have said this over the past decade, including a number of Cardinals, but when the Pope says it, it is news.  There has of yet been no official change of policy however. 
In the same interview Francis said that the Church must look again at the role of women.  He specifically excluded the possibility of ordaining women to the priesthood or episcopate but he said that they must have greater roles than serving at the altar or being chancellor of a diocese or heading up a Vatican bureau.  What is he thinking of?  He was not clear.  But without ordaining women to the priesthood or episcopate while opening up top-level Vatican careers, could he be hinting at the possibility of naming women to the College of Cardinals?  It is not necessary for one to be a bishop or even a priest to be a Cardinal.  If the diaconate were open to women, and there is no reason why it could not be, a woman could be a Cardinal deacon.  And, if one looks at history, it would even be possible to name a woman—or a man for that matter—to the College without even the diaconate.  The last lay Cardinal was in the nineteenth century but there is a long tradition of them.  Wouldn’t that make the next conclave fascinating?   
All this has bunched the panties of the neo-trads and to look at their blogs, they are in a panic.  Their future which seemed so rosy a year ago is in great disarray.  Who would have thought that the tables could turn so quickly?  On the other hand, tables can turn again.  Little did we know when the ultra-staid Pius XII was writing his revolutionary encyclicals  Divino  Afflante Spiritu, Mystici Corporis, and Mediator Dei that we were on the first incline of what has proved these last fifty years to be a wild roller-coaster ride in Church history.   

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