I've been increasingly taken aback by much of the rhetoric on social media regarding Pope Francis. I'm not an ultramontanist, so I'm far from thinking that criticism of the Supreme Pontiff is illegitimate. And indeed, some of the defences of the Pope (and criticism of his critics) have been just as uncharitable, just as rancourous.
On both sides, there is a great deal of sarcasm, irony, satire, name-calling, flippancy, and so forth-- not charitable or serious discussion.
However, my contacts on social media would tend to be very conservative, and so I've been more exposed to the "anti-Francis" side of the debate.
It really bothers me that there is a contingent who increasingly seem to see themselves as "the resistance" to the Pope. When you've set yourself consciously and continuously in opposition to the Pope, surely you've lost your way.
"Name names", you might demand. Well, I'm not going to. I have no intention of getting into spats or finger-pointing.
Ross Douthat is an example of a Catholic writer whose critique of Francis is respectful and measured. Sadly, there are others who are not respectful or measured.
I'll be very frank. I've found this pontificate extremely challenging, even distressing at times. I'm often baffled by the Pope's words and actions, even while I find some of his pronouncements deeply inspiring (for instance, many passages in his latest apostolic exhortation, Rejoice and Be Glad).
But docility and obedience are virtues to Catholics. I'm struck by this very often in reading the lives of the saints. St. Catherine of Siena's criticism of the Pope is often cited, but it's a rare exception. St. Athanasius of Alexandria, in his war with the Arian bishops, is another. (But let us remember that he was a bishop.) I'm not aware of many other examples.
The saintly figures of Catholic history are much more often distinguished by docility-- to their bishops and religious superiors, never mind the Pope.
Here's an example. Venerable Fulton Sheen is often hailed as an outstanding figure of old-fashioned Catholicism-- assertive, unapologetic, hard-hitting. I was watching one of his videos on YouTube and, reflecting on the fact that he died in 1979, found myself wondering what he'd said about Vatican II.
|Venerable Fulton Sheen|
One could hardly get more enthusiastic-- rather too enthusiastic, in my view.
Even with a figure like Frank Duff, the founder of the Legion of Mary, we see this. Duff was often frustrated in his efforts by unsympathetic bishops, such as John Charles McQuaid (I admire McQuaid greatly, by the way). But he didn't air his frustrations publicly. (If I'm wrong on this, I'm happy to be corrected.)
Speaking of Vatican II, I'm continually haunted by its assertion of Papal supremacy in Lumen Gentium: "In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent. This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will. His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking."
There is not much ambiguity there. Certainly it seems to leave little room for many of the critics of our current Pope, whose atttidue seems to be: "Call me when he proclaims a dogma".
I'm also haunted by the fact that Pope Benedict has explicitly said that Pope Francis's pontificate is not in contradiction with his own, and that there is a "continuity" between them. (He also seems to have given moral support to Cardinal Muller and one of the dubia cardinals, so I think Pope Francis's champions should show a similiar respect towards his critics.)
I would cheer wildly if Cardinal Burke or Cardinal Sarah stepped onto the balcony of St. Peter's after the next papal conclave. In fact, I look towards this conclave with considerable apprehension, especially given the number of cardinals Pope Francis has ordained.
|Cardinal Raymond Burke, a great man|
On the other hand...the Holy Spirit knows better than me. I'm not saying that every papal election is an act of the Holy Spirit, but it might be.
And the promise of our Lord to St. Peter remains operative. No matter how bad things get, we know the Church is not going to apostasize.
I have my opinions on what "bad" is, but who's to say I'm right? Many Catholics would look askance on developments which seem reasonable to me, such as ecumenical outreach. (Which is not to say I approve of everything done in the name of ecumenism.)
What really bothers me is the amount of time Catholics spend fighting each other. In all the time I've spent reading G.K. Chesterton, I've never come across a passage where he criticizes a Catholic bishop or any development within the Catholic Church. (This is especially notable considered he was an ardent supporter of World War One, and the Pope of the time called for peace and negotiation.) I'm not saying there are no such passages, but they must be thin on the ground indeed, since I don't remember ever reading any. Belloc, too, I remember reading, made it a point not to criticise other Catholics.
From now on, I am going to avoid thinking of myself as a conservative Catholic, a JPII Catholic, a Pope Benedict Catholic, an Ordinary Form Catholic, or any other sort of Catholic. I'm just a Catholic. I'm so tired of the Catholic in-fighting. I'm sorry for any part I've played it, or any expressions of rancour or sarcasm towards the Holy Father on this blog in the past.