Friday, October 25, 2013

"Benedict I Have Loved, but Francis I Have Hated"

One reason I believe that many conservative Catholics like Pope Benedict and dislike Pope Francis is that Pope Benedict articulated what many of them were already thinking and what they thought others needed to hear.

Didn't it feel good to finally hear a pope denounce the dictatorship of relativism? Didn't you just want to squeal when he condemned "professional Catholics?"

You felt a deep sense of satisfaction didn't you?

A lot of Benedict's buzz came from telling the world where it got off.

And we loved him for it.

He was the mouthpiece of our own ideas.

But Francis does not articulate what we are already thinking.

Often, his statements sound strange.

Here are a few that have jarred more than one conservative Catholic:

The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules. The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you.

We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.

How I would like a church that is poor and for the poor.
He did not say anything against the Catholic faith.

But he went off script.

And I know exactly how most Conservative Catholics reacted (if only instinctively) to what he said to those quotes:

Small-minded rules? I wish the bishop would enforce some of those freakin' small-minded rules and deny our MP communion!

Oh crap, we have enough trouble getting the clergy to talk about abortion and now he's telling us to stop being obsessed!

Talking about the poor? Oh don't tell me he's one of these justice and peace types!

Conservative Catholics have had a script since JPII. The script was all the things that needed to be said to get rid of liberalism and modernism in the Church and relativism and its resulting social evils in the secular world.

Pope John Paul often read off this script, and so did Benedict.

But Francis threw away the script.

And many Catholics want it back.

They like their "doctrinal security."

To someone who likes the JPII script, Francis can be very disorienting.

Speaking for myself, I like the fact that he doesn't read off the script.

I wouldn't mind if he took it back. I'd like nothing better than a anti-modernist smackdown.

But what I appreciate is that he says things that are not on my script, and that's okay because: I don't know it all.

My faith, my support for orthodoxy isn't about "doctrinal security", i.e. so that I can feel comfortable because everyone is orthodox like me and I have a nice fortress of resistance in a hostile world.

I like a pope who feeds me, who injects thoughts into the Catholic discourse that I wasn't having.

The JPII script, true as it is, is a bit predictable. Do I need to be reminded that abortion is murder? That relativism is tyrannical? That conscience must be formed by truth?

No I don't need that.

And there are millions of Catholics who don't need that.

Do I need to be reminded about the poor, about "small-minded rules", mercy and the like?

Yes I do.

And I know that there are a lot of Catholics who will point to the Church and the world and say "Look at what they need! Look at what they need!"

And I say: look at what you need.

What I like about Pope Francis is that he addresses some left-wing tropes, and by treating them in an orthodox fashion, he undermines their agenda.

For instance, the Pope denounced "clericalim". The left thought he meant priestly power.

And that's not it at all.

The pope was denouncing the priestly abuse of power.

Like when liberals bishops will not allow for the Latin Mass. Or when parishoners want to do something pro-life in the parish, but the priest doesn't want to get "mixed up" in that.

That sort of thing.

I had never really even thought of clericalism before he said it (or at least not with the spin he gave it.)

Of course, Pope Benedict's denunciation of Professional Catholics was in a similar vein, except Conservative Catholics knew who he was talking about.

Another aspect of Pope Francis' approach that is off script is that he is essentially pastoral, while Pope Benedict tended to be more academic.

As I like to say, he talks normal. Whereas Pope Benedict quotes 14th century Byzantine Emperors.

Francis' colloquialism renders him suspect because it sounds like dumbing down. And dumbing down, in our Church, is associated with liberalism, because liberals always tried to pass off their agenda by dumbing down the faith (and thereby pervert it).

I find his colloquialism to be an asset, precisely because he makes orthodoxy accessible. Consider this quote:

Relativism is, oddly, absolutist and totalitarian. It does not allow anyone to stray from its own relativism. Basically, it means ‘shut up’ or ‘don't meddle.’

In that pithy quote, he expressed Pope Benedict's condemnation of "the dictatorship of relativism" but in more familiar terms.

This is a bad thing?

When I read the great Catholic writers of the past, one of the values they strongly emphasize is renouncing one's own preferences as often as one can.

Perhaps this is an opportunity for Conservative Catholics to let go of their preference for theological language, for a certain script and to let Francis, teach in his own way, all those orthodox ideas of his that are not on our script.

We need the humility to listen to ideas that we may find weird or not relevant to our culture war agenda. [Although ultimately all Catholic ideas have to do with the culture war].

Because if we want others to listen with humility to things they don't like to hear, we have to be prepared to exercise that virtue first.