Monday, December 30, 2013

The Obamazation of Pope Francis III

The Founder of the Franciscans of Immaculate,
Father Stefano Manelli, with the Sisters of the
For many neo-trads, Pope Francis’ most damning stance was taken on that airplane back from World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro when he was asked—in regard to the case of a priest, Monsignor Battista Ricca, accused of having had several same-sex affairs—what policy he would follow in regard to gay clergy.  Pope Francis first said that he had investigated the rumors about Monsignor Ricca and did not find them credible, but then went on to say: "If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?"  This comment sent the world of Catholic neo-trads crazy.  It was a marked departure from the policies of Francis’ two predecessors, Pope Benedict and Pope John Paul II, both of whom said that men with deep-rooted same-sex attraction should not be admitted to the priesthood.  Ironically, Pope John Paul and Pope Benedict, despite their tough talk on the issue, were notoriously lax in turning a blind eye to homosexual indiscretions among the ranks of their closest aides and advisors.  In fact, both popes moved rather effortlessly in the atmosphere of sexual ambiguity that has developed in the Roman Curia over the past thirty years.  Francis too seems not to be threatened by being surrounded by a significant number of gay clergy but, unlike his predecessors, he is both honest about it and determined to address the issue.  I am not expecting the reforms of the Roman Curia currently being directed by the commission of eight cardinals to purge every Vatican worker with same-sex attraction.  That would be neither desirable nor realistic.  I am expecting a Curia that has integrity—an administration in which the men and women (yes, there are women in Vatican posts—though not the most significant ones) who are charged with assisting the Pope in the governance of the Church will be people of their word; men and women who, regardless of their sexual attraction, conform their lives to the values the Church proclaims. And I certainly don’t limit such integrity to matters of celibacy as there are far more problems in the central administration of the Church than sexual misconduct.  We need to see a Curia that witnesses to the Gospel to humble service rather than give itself to careerism, graft, and the raw abuse of power.  However, in answering the now-famous question, Pope Francis dealt with the issue of gay clergy very appropriately—as a matter of sin and grace rather than ideology.  Human nature being what it is, even after the reform of the Curia, both sin and grace will still have an operative role in the administration of the Church—after all, that is what our Christian Gospel is about.  And we must keep the mystery of sin and grace front and center in our perspective.  But those who were upset with Francis and his response were unhappy precisely because they want to deal with it as a matter of judgment—not leaving it to the judgment of God but to their own petty pharisaic preoccupation with the speck in their neighbor’s eye. After all, if the Pope declines to judge, how can they claim to have any title to the task?   To bolster their arguments, they even dragged in Franklin Graham, son of the famous Evangelist, Billy Graham.  Unfortunately the younger Graham lacks the Wisdom of Christ’s Gospel that allowed his father to transcend sectarian and other biases and bring people to Christ rather than drive them away with pharisaical harshness.  For many neo-trads who were convinced that the “liberal” ideas of the Vatican II and post-Vatican II years had been turned back forever, this statement of Pope Francis came as quite a shock.  Most bloggers were too stunned to react and scrambled to put the Pope’s comments into a “context.”  There was some concern that he used the word “gay”—an English expression inserted into his Italian remarks—because it “validated” the gay perspective by using a word by which those who identify with the LGBT movement(s) identify themselves.  Among the quick to react was one “Thinking Housewife:” (   who wrote

ONE of the most disturbing things about Pope Francis’s recent comments on the plane from Rome to Rio was his implication that the Church may legitimately view homosexuality as a permanent inclination and a form of identity. But there is no such thing as a Christian homosexual. There are obviously Christians who have homosexual desires, but not homosexual Christians.

One of her respondents wrote

Those who define themselves by some sin have no place in the Church, and in rejecting the sin, the Church must reject those who identify themselves as willingly, unrepentingly, participating in that sin. 

Talk about make-it-up-as-you-go-along theology.   Well, actually not: I should call it a borrowed theology.  If we were Calvinists this would be true, but in our Catholic world, the wheat and tares grow together in the same field only to be separated out at the final judgment by the One who is to Judge.   This is a key part of the problem with the Francis-bashers.  The Jansenism in which they have been steeped is simply a variation on Calvin’s twisting of Saint Augustine.  The Catholic position is that the Church has a mission to sinners—not after they repent or when they repent—but precisely at that point in their lives when they find themselves in conflict with God’s plan.  I seem to recall something about “Healthy people do not need the physician, the sick do.  The Son of Man has come not for the righteous but for sinners.”  But then perhaps I take Jesus too much at his word.
The Thinking House Wife’s reaction was mild compared to Mundabor’s Blog ( whose author’s frustration poured forth in this invective: There is no week now without this disgraceful man reaching for a new deep from the gutter in which he has already put himself.  And this about the Vicar of Christ, the Successor to Saint Peter.   The Liberals were never so vile in their anger with John Paul or Benedict—but hey, not everybody is happy about the changed menu in the Catholic cafeteria. 
In fact, most people took Pope Francis’ comments on gays quite positively and so, considering the dramatic impact of this new approach, the neo-trad critics got surprisingly little traction on this issue.  Moreover the reaction was undoubtedly dulled by another controversy brewing at exactly the same time, and one that stole the gay-thunder by causing a flap about the “Extra-ordinary Form” of the Liturgy and the right of priests to celebrate that form guaranteed by Pope Benedict XVI in Summorum Pontificum.   
Before flying home from World youth Day Pope Francis had appointed Capuchin Franciscan Friar Fidenzo Volpi as Apostolic Commissioner to settle difficulties among the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate.  It is still unclear—and the smoke of this still raging fire is making it ever more unclear—what the root issue is that has divided the community. (I have a number of blog entries on the Franciscans of the Immaculate: August 4, 5, 7, 9, 11, 14  2013.)   The problems seem to have originated with a decision of the Founder/General Superior of the Congregation, Father Stefano Manelli, that in their friaries only the pre-conciliar rites would be used.  While the Congregation is quite traditional, not all friars were quite that conservative and wanted to maintain the option to use the Novus Ordo.  They appealed to the Holy See to protect their rights to use the “Ordinary Form” of the approved Liturgy of the Church.  When Father Volpi began to unravel the complexities of the complaints, he found that it was about far more than which liturgy to use.  The conservative nature of the Congregation had attracted any number of candidates and friars who not only preferred the Baroque Rite, but who rejected the Rite of Paul VI (the Novus Ordo).  Moreover, it was not simply the rites they rejected but the teachings of the Second Vatican Council on issues such as ecumenism, inter-religious dialogue, and freedom of conscience.  At this point the issue becomes are these friars Catholic?  The requirement to accept the teachings of the Council and validity of the post-Conciliar Rites is the very sticking point that is preventing the healing of the Lefebvrist schism.  Father Volpi took severe action.  He insisted that the current Rite must be the normative form of the Liturgy and that permission was needed to celebrate the pre-conciliar Rite.  He also undertook a thorough examination of the course of studies for the friars and decreed that until he was satisfied that the friars were being educated according to current Catholic doctrine, no man would be advanced to ordination.  When he met with resistance from Father Manelli and his chief supporters, Volpi assigned them to remote friaries where they could cause less disruption.  Those friars who wanted to impose the traditional forms on the entire Congregation did not take Volpi’s decisions lying down and the neo-trads—especially those such as the blog Rorate Caeli ( which are primarily interested in restoring the traditional rites, picked up the hue and cry. Neo-trads complained that the rights to celebrate the old liturgy (or to avoid the new) “guaranteed” by Pope Benedict had been abrogated.  The shrieks spread to sites like The Eponymous Flower ( that have a more popular readership among the neo-traditionalist crowd.  Injudicious remarks about Pope Francis abound among those who defend the rebellious friars.  This too has led to a growing estrangement between Pope Francis and what has become a Tea Party within the Church.  I find it interesting that when in 1981 Pope John Paul stepped in and appointed Father Paolo Dezza as Pontifical Delegate for the Society of Jesus after the liberal generalate of Father Pedro Arrupe in order to bring the Society back to the center, the conservative cheered.  Now once again, as so often with Francis, the shoe is on the other foot and some people are not so happy.  Francis is being portrayed as a bully who is persecuting these friars and the religious women attached to the Congregation.  More and more for those on the farther right reaches of the Church, Francis can do no good.  The same polarization that is undermining us as a nation by clogging our political processes with polemic is now driving a wedge in the Church.    

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