Monday, December 23, 2013

The Obamazation of Pope Francis

Pope Francis and Barack Obama should form a mutual support group.  Neither one can get a break from the extreme right ends of his constituency.  The criticisms are often not founded in fact and reflect a paranoia more than knowledge and understanding of our institutions and their histories—whether the United States or the Catholic Church.  And it is often the same voices that are raised against each.  I am not going to get into the President and his problems,  but I do want to look at the irrational fears that keep making their way into criticisms of Francis who, for many of us, is the breath of fresh air in what was getting to be a far too stuffy Church. 
  From when his election was first announced and he appeared on the balcony of Saint Peter’s basilica without the traditional ermine-lined papal mozetta favored by his more traditionalist predecessor Pope Benedict, Francis has aroused at first the fears and later the contempt of those who believe that he has changed the direction of the Church in deleterious ways.  The semi-schismatic website Rorate Caeli published the following report from Marcelo González, a critic of Vatican II Catholicism the  very day the new pope was elected:
Of all the unthinkable candidates, Jorge Mario Bergoglio is perhaps the worst. Not because he openly professes doctrines against the faith and morals, but because, judging from his work as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, faith and moral seem to have been irrelevant to him.
A sworn enemy of the Traditional Mass, he has only allowed imitations of it in the hands of declared enemies of the ancient liturgy. He has persecuted every single priest who made an effort to wear a cassock, preach with firmness, or that was simply interested in Summorum Pontificum.

It didn’t take long for the fears to be confirmed.  Only two weeks after his election, on Holy Thursday, the Pope celebrated Mass not in his Cathedral of Saint John in the Lateran or in the Vatican Basilica as his predecessors, but in a juvenile prison.  And he not only broke the tradition of a grand pontifical liturgy in one of the patriarchal basilicas, he “broke the law” that insisted that only men are to be included in the washing of feet by washing the feet of two young ladies, one of whom is a Muslim.  (Actually, we should say that the Pope shattered the law as he set an example that lets the rest of us know that the liturgical guidelines on this need not be interpreted strictly. And for some that is even worse than breaking the law because it obviously gives permission to “go and do likewise.”)    A blog out of Gaithersburg Maryland run by a particularly dyspeptic woman by the name of Janet wrote:
I refer, of course, to the now-infamous and yes, scandalous conduct of the Holy Thursday service at Rome's Casal del Marmo prison for minors. The Holy Father washed the feet of twelve minors - including two women, one of them Muslim. This is in direct contravention to canon law that stipulates that only the feet of men be washed, if that ceremony is included in a Holy Thursday liturgy.
So the Holy Father caused scandal.  I am not sure for whom.  For Janet, certainly, and probably a half dozen or so of her friends.  For most Catholics this was the first clear sign of hope that we are back on track with a Christian faith that is free of the control of the scribes and the Pharisees who have taken it on themselves to police liturgies and make sure every little infraction is reported and punished. 
But Janet, like the foes of Jesus in the Gospels, is not concerned only with the weightier matters of the law, but even the jots and tittles.  She worries, for example, about his sartorial simplicity. 
This current Holy Father seems to have a disregard for some of the traditions of the papacy, most particularly that of the vestments. In perhaps a misguided zeal for "simplicity".
Misguided zeal for simplicity?  Frankly the liturgical fashion shows of his predecessor were becoming an embarrassment in a world that has moved beyond renaissance costuming.  This is not to say that Pope Benedict did not have exquisite taste in matters of apparel—he does—but we need a Pope who reminds us that the least of Christ’s brothers and sisters are too often homeless, naked, and in want.  Francis is a constant nudge to our consciences. 
As to this point, there were mainly matters of ritual and style that disturbed people about Francis, but the criticism began to pick up steam at and after World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro in the end of July.  The papal liturgies were wildly enthusiastic but there was much criticism of a “dance” that had bishops and kids alike in a sort of flash mob scene.  It was hugely popular among those present, but not among the neo-trad bloggers who were “appalled” at “this lack of gross decency and respect for the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.”  What set of the alarms bells for many, however, was not the dance, but the papal interview on the plane back to Rome when the Holy Father said “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”  Who is he to judge?  The bloggers were quick to tell him who he is to judge.  After all, if he can’t judge, they can’t claim that right and with that comment Francis became for them the Grinch that stole Christmas.  Not judge?  The Catholic blogosphere would shut down if we can’t sit in moral judgment of one another.  Fortunately, we still have Phil Robertson.  Maybe we should dig out the old tiara and put it on Phil—he does look a bit like Pope St Pius V. 
Pat Buchanan, the good Catholic and evangelist for the Republican Right, wishes the Holy Father “would judge gay people more.”  The American Spectator called Francis “The Poster Boy for Gay Marriage.”
The problem is this—Francis’s new approach—while not altering doctrine—is altering practice. 
Well, we will do more on this in future posting as we are only beginning with the criticism of Pope Francis and as every day goes by—and Cardinal Burke falls further from grace—the crazies get crazier and crazier as they see the Church that reinforces their prejudices and dreams fade in favor of a very new—but also very old—vision of what Christ calls his Church to be.   A lady named Pamela wrote in to Life Site News about the distress she is finding with Pope Francis and his leadership as it trickles down to everyday life in her parish,
My uneasiness is turning into outright fear of what is happening to our Church. I am seeing this same theme play out in my local parish, where the new pastor says we have to be more accepting and tolerant of every single social ill I've been fighting to stop. I'm praying for our clergy daily and also praying for discernment to see the Truth and the Good in all of this (because I sure as heck can't find it on my own). Please, everyone, pray with me!
Well, Pamela, we are praying with you but most likely not for the same end result.  Where you find fear, we find hope.  

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