Media reports about the Vatican Synod on the Family inflamed divisions in the Church. Pope Francis drew fire for accommodations to the left and capitulations to the right.
Martin Barillas, the devoutly Catholic editor of Spero News for which I am an occasional columnist, recently gifted me with a set of leather-bound Latin breviaries published in 1927, and are in superb condition. I am struck by how foreign it feels to pray the Divine Office in Latin, and yet how strangely familiar and wonderful. In prison, I had forgotten how beautiful and majestic prayer in Latin can be. Martin has given me a wonderful reminder that the treasures of Catholic Tradition must be preserved and guarded.
I am also most grateful to Carlos Caso-Rosendi for his guest post “Love Through the Tempest” while I have been stranded with limited means to write. The comments on that post were excellent, and helped put to rest the unease of many readers struggling to understand Pope Francis and his agenda for the Church. The ongoing tensions between traditionalist and progressive Catholics arose anew as the media filtered Pope Francis during and after the recent Synod on the Family.
While Carlos penned his post from his home in Buenos Aires, Argentina, I was busy writing “Pope Francis and the Scandal of Listening“as a follow-up to it for TheseStoneWalls. Neither Carlos nor I knew in advance what each other would be writing, but it came as no surprise to me that we both focused on the tempest surrounding Pope Francis.
So what is this pope really up to, and why? From the first days of his papacy, the first non-European to sit in the Chair of Peter in over 1,200 years drew the cheers of progressives and the unease of traditionalists. He declines to wear those papal red shoes. He insists on living in a Vatican guest house instead of the Apostolic Palace. He seems, for lack of any better description, the pope who would not be king.
ON THE COVER INSTEAD OF DUCKING FOR COVER
Meanwhile, some very worldly accolades have been thrust upon Pope Francis. Forbes just listed him as one of the four most powerful men on Earth. He was on the cover of Time magazine as “Man of the Year” for 2013. When Fortune magazine announced its 2014 list of the world’s fifty most effective leaders, Pope Francis topped the list at number one.
It is most suspect that much of the Western World’s left-leaning news media finds this pope to be fascinating. The news media seems to have forgotten, as have our uneasy Catholic traditionalists, that just two years ago, news about the pope took the form of things like SNAP’S attempt to indict him at the International Criminal Court in The Hague for a media-hyped charge of “Crimes Against Humanity.”
It was an ignorant and bigoted attack on the papacy and the person of Pope Emeritus Benedict that I wrote of in “SNAP’s Last Gasp” Most Catholic progressives and traditionalists were silent. When Pope Benedict XVI, still beloved of most of us, went to England for the Beatification of John Henry Cardinal Newman, celebrity atheist Richard Dawkins created a media spectacle by calling for his arrest and imprisonment when he set foot on British soil. Most Catholic progressives and traditionalists were silent.
And when that hapless United Nations committee I described in “The U.N. in the Time of Cholera” aimed its sights at Pope Emeritus Benedict, despite its being the height of hypocrisy, most Catholic progressives and traditionalists were silent.
Were we better off when scorn and derision were the face of the Church and papacy? Have traditionalist Catholics become so accustomed to anti-Catholic slurs in the media that we find it suspect when the Pope and Church are honored? In just a year and a half, Pope Francis has changed the image of the papacy with approval ratings that the U.S. President must envy right about now.
I get it – and we should all get it – that the world’s “approval ratings” should not be of any concern to this Pope. There’s an argument to be made that the world’s approval comes at a price we should not pay. It may be for good reason that the accolades of the world thrust upon Pope Francis make a lot of us, the Catholics in the trenches who are living and defending our treasury of faith, most uneasy.
As I alluded at the end of “Pope Francis and the Scandal of Listening,” my Catholic traditionalism begins with the most fundamental tradition of belief about the occupant of the Chair of Peter. He is chosen by the Spirit working within the Church despite our discomforts, and despite media misrepresentations he endures.
“GOD IS NOT AFRAID OF NEW THINGS!”
Of course God is not afraid of new things! For all the rest of us, however, change can be suspect, especially when it appears to surrender ground in a long, hard-fought culture war. I know that Pope Francis raises the alarm of Catholic conservatives when he engages culture in a dialogue of inclusivity. He is listening to people and issues many of us would prefer that he not hear from so willingly.
But let’s face it, a dialogue of Catholic Exclusivity has harmed the Church far more. Yes, this Pope’s recent sound bite, “God is not afraid of new things,” has been endlessly quoted out of context by the Catholic left. But to be fair, that other now famous papal quote, “Who am I to judge?” has been a repeated and cynical taunt of the Catholic right.
It isn’t that we fear change so much as we reverence the things that this world would casually, callously dump by the wayside of history to accommodate and feed a frivolous, self-indulgent culture. The Catholic Church in America, especially, has seen that ground taken by fiat, legislated from the bench in a sort of judicial eminent domain. Like all things American, judicial fiats of commission, like Roe v. Wade, and omission, like the Supreme Court’s recent nod to same-sex marriage, spread unquestioned through the Western World.
After the recent synod, the news media would have us believe that the story of pope Francis is simple: a left-leaning Pope whose progressive social agenda has been held back by stodgy traditionalist Catholics who “won this round.” It’s the media view, but it’s by no means an accurate view. One surprising source of sanity and accuracy was a recent TIME article by Elizabeth Dias entitled, “Sorry, but Media Coverage of Pope Francis is Papal Bull,” (TIME, October 29, 2014):
“Every news outlet both major and minor has got the story wrong proving once again that the mainstream media has no understanding of the Church, and this madness shows no signs of stopping.”
It’s a madness that goes far beyond mistranslating this Pope. The news media has an agenda, and its reporting is very much in the service of that agenda. I believe that Catholic writers, including and especially Catholic bloggers, have a sacred duty to rise above partisanship to write in service of the Church and the truth, and not just in service of their particular mindset, right or left.
This recently posted statement by Cardinal Raymond Burke portrays the harm that can be done when agendas rule our allegiance:
“I did not state that Pope Francis has harmed the Church… Sadly, confusion, such as that generated by this particular interview, has been used to portray those opposed to Cardinal Kasper’s thesis as motivated by a personal animus against the Holy Father. This is just not the case, though it no doubt helps those with certain ideological axes to grind to make this appear so” (Interview with Raymond Cardinal Burke).
THE LEFT AND RIGHT IN AN UNCIVIL WAR
A week or so before the U.S. elections on November 4, I had a telephone conversation with a life long friend I grew up with in Massachusetts. She had seen my post, “Dangerous Liaisons,” in which I described efforts by Martha Coakley, a prosecutor who just ran unsuccessfully for Governor of Massachusetts, to keep wrongly convicted people in prison. TSW readers may readily see why I had such a concern.
My friend agreed with me that this was a HUGE problem, that it created a great conflict for her, but added that she had no choice but to vote for Martha Coakley. When I asked why, she said, “Because she’s the Democrat; right or wrong, she’s the Democrat.”
It was a stark reminder of something that played out in the background during our most recent Catholic tug-of-war between left and right: the midterm elections in the United States. If you had the misfortune of watching even a half-hour of American television during the last two months, then you observed first hand the negative attack ads and the obsession with winning and losing into which our politics have degraded. America is descending into an ideological civil war.
The evidence for this might have been a global scandal in a more just and even-handed world. It might have been a scandal if not for the fact that the news media is itself so ideologically driven. In this month’s midterm elections, the political left and right spent more than $4 billion attacking each other in television ads. That $4 billion for a single partisan election is without precedent in American history.
Three Senate races, in Kentucky, North Carolina, and Tennessee, each spent in excess of $100 million for TV attack ads. And for what? For the simple and simply base purpose of one party dominating over another? To no longer serve American interests, but party interests?
Like all things American, this great divide now dominates Western Culture. Just look at how quickly and seamlessly the American social change over same-sex marriage – a change imposed by judicial fiat – swept the Western World. It should come as no surprise that the Catholic Church in America is also descending into this ideological civil war.
I have many questions and some grave concerns over this Pope’s challenges to Catholic Traditionalists. I am very concerned about the justice and charity in the handling of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, and other groups that have held fast in expressions of Catholic Tradition. But above all, Traditionalists must respond with grace and charity, not leave the Gifts of the Holy Spirit upon the field of battle.
Pope Francis is very fond of the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). He employs its imagery often and, for what it’s worth, so do I – most recently in “Pope Francis has a Challenge for the Prodigal Sons Older Brother.”
Francis has said that within that parable can be found the entire Gospel. The parable is also about the always faithful older brother concerned that the doors of his Father’s house are opening to the one who left to squander his inheritance on the peripheries.
The symbolism is very rich. In issuing his protest in the parable, the faithful older brother stands outside the house while his brother celebrates inside. “You have always been with me,” pleads his Father, “and everything I have is yours, but your brother was lost, and now he is found” (see Luke 15:31-32).
That, for me, is the key to being a faithful Catholic Traditionalist. There is no problem with our expressions of concern, or even our protests. But we must never issue them while standing outside the house. The great challenge is to stand with Francis – cum Petra - in trust of the Holy Spirit even as the waves of anxiety about the forces of this world crash over us.
That takes certain grounding in another unassailable truth of the Gospel: Standing with Peter, the Gates of Hell cannot prevail against us.