Thursday, March 14, 2013

Is Pope Francis a Liberal out to destroy the Faith?

Everyone is understandably stunned by the news about the election of Pope Francis. The traditionalist Catholic blogosphere was especially buzzing with news, most of which was highly critical of the new Pope. In fact, there were times where things got so out of hand that I had to stop reading the comments, for they had crossed the line of decency and fairness which Catholics should be extending to others, especially to the Holy Father. No matter how 'bad' a Pope were to ever get, he still holds a divine office so high and grand that a real and filial level of respect is due. This is not to say that Catholics are to blindly go along with whatever a Pope or bishop does, but that's very different than the level of bashing and vicious attacks that took place almost immediately after the Holy Father made his first appearance. 

I think there can be a fair and sober evaluation that can be made this early on, but we cannot put too much emphasis on assuming the best or worst. Here are my thoughts (in case anyone cares) about the new Pope:

Traditionalism: There is no indication he is a 'traditionalist' minded Pope, particularly in regards to promoting the Traditional Latin Mass. The biggest fear traditionalist have is that Francis will either undermine or revoke Summorum Pontificum and thus effectively marginalize and persecute traditional minded Catholics. Given that reports from his diocese in Argentina suggest he opposed the TLM, this is a valid concern, but there is no need to assume the worst, especially this early on. Even Benedict didn't do much to promote the TLM outside of issuing SP, and in fact Benedict wasn't much of a traditionalist himself. If Francis were to overturn SP, that would speak very negatively about him, but the beauty of SP is that it is clear the TLM was never abrogated and can never be forbidden. [Important Update: It seems as if these reports that he opposed the TLM were either exaggerated or downright false, since there are TLMs taking place in Argentina. So there isn't any good evidence that Francis is going to hurt traditionalists in this regard.]

Doctrinal orthodoxy: Just because someone is not a traditionalist does not mean they are completely off the rails doctrinally. Most "conservative Catholics" today don't understand the role and importance traditionalism plays in their Catholic faith, but they still do their best to faithfully believe and promote the Church's teachings, especially on morals. A good example of this is Bishop Robert Vasa, who (for some reason) does not like the TLM, and yet he is a very strict and orthodox Bishop otherwise, closely guiding his priests and flock. Bishop Vasa does not put up with liturgical abuse nor heterodoxy, especially by catechists. In fact, he made headlines recently for forcing all the Catholic teachers and catechists in his diocese to sign a statement of faith that they will not teach heterodoxy, especially in regards to morals like abortion, contraception, etc. It is not clear yet how 'orthodox' Francis is and how well he will promote orthodoxy, but I've seen some indication that he has been firm in opposing major moral errors of today. For example, a letter he wrote opposing homosexuality while he was a Bishop is written in a very orthodox and traditionalist tone, citing natural law, divine law, the deceptions of the Devil, and the need for public and civil opposition to the moral evil. It would be great if Francis would issue short but firm directives such as that letter. How often and how public he will be about such things is yet to be seen. One unfortunate trend over the last 50 years or so is that the Popes have spoken in vague, flowery, and philosophical language when speaking on morals, and the result comes off more confusing than edifying the faithful. Catholics need to hear specifics and the cold hard truth, not veiled and indirect references to modern dangers.

Not to sweep things under the rug, it should be mentioned that there were some scandalous reports that while as an Archbishop, Francis participated in some not so reverent liturgies and even in some scandalous ecumenical gatherings (where he knelt and had fellow Catholics and Protestant pastors pray over him). That's obviously not good, but I would hesitate to rush too quickly to make these the only lens by which we evaluate him. The context and frequency of those events is largely unconfirmed, so I will hold off assuming the worst. Obviously, if he schedules and participates in another Assisi gathering of false religions, as John Paul II and Benedict both participated in, that would also not make him look good.

The name "Francis": This was a major shocker to everyone, because it left everyone scratching their head as to how this name was chosen. More importantly, underlying this shock is the fact nobody really knows who this Cardinal Bergoglio is. Is he going to bring in major changes? If so, this could be good or bad, depending on the changes of course. There was a famous conversion event in the life of St Francis of Assisi where Jesus appeared to him in a dilapidated church and said "Francis, go rebuild my church, which is falling down." St Francis took this as a sign that he was to repair the building he was in, only to find out Jesus meant He wanted St Francis to reinvigorate the entire Catholic Church. If this is the Francis that Pope Francis is seeking to imitate, then this is a very good sign. But, and shudder the thought, if he is suggesting the Feminized Francis of the modern day Franciscan and Jesuit orders, then we have something to fear. The fact he is Jesuit also has some people concerned, since the Jesuits have been notoriously and scandalously unfaithful to the Church the last 50 years or so (with a few exceptions such as Fr Hardon and Fr Pacwa).

There is some good news though about Francis that should not be ignored. First of all, he has refused to take a position in the Vatican and preferred to do his duties as Cardinal from his home country. He dislikes bureaucracy, which is unfortunately gotten so bad in Rome that it has created a sort of mafia environment and stopped a lot of good from being done. In choosing to be outside of that circle, he is saying that he is not part of it. This is a very good quality if he was selected especially to "clean out the stables," meaning get the Roman Curia back in order by getting rid of bad Bishops and Cardinals. Further, Francis has lived a very humble life, truly exhibiting the Christian qualities that are so lacking in most of the Bishops today. For example, he takes public transportation instead of having a chauffeur, and he cooks his own meals and lives in a small apartment. This is not to say that pomp is bad, but unfortunately most Bishops and Cardinals have let the 'refinements' that naturally come with their office to distract them from the true Christian virtues, especially of poverty. There also have been pictures circulating showing his care for the poor, including kissing the feet of the infirm. This visible testimony, if genuine (and there's no reason to assume otherwise), will go a long way in converting the world and giving the Catholic faith credibility.

In Conclusion, I'd say there is no need to fear at this point, and there is especially no need to make vicious criticisms and assume the worst. On the other hand, we should have some reservations and refuse to blindly rally around Francis as if the Pope were a celebrity who we worship. At this point, he doesn't seem much different from the last few Popes. At 76 years old and missing a lung, this could easily suggest a short Papacy. Really, the selection of Cardinal Bergoglio speaks more about the (at least) 2/3 of the Cardinals who elected him than anything. Since he was elected on the 4th ballot it means he was a very early favorite. What did the Cardinals see in him? We would hope that at least half of the Cardinals who voted for him truly had the best intentions of the Church in mind.


The Maestro said...

There are rumors that he actually did arrange for a Latin mass within 48 hours of Summorum Pontificum. Using Google Translate on this page, it is a big encouraging... But nothing seems certain yet.

Nick said...

Thank you for this. It just goes to show how confused and how much misinformation can be spread so quickly and cause so much damage. I saw on another page that there were something like 14 TLMs in Argentina, including a few daily ones in the capital. So this does not give good credibility to the folks saying he utterly opposed SP. This is seemingly a +1 moment for him.

Tancred said...

I don’t know that this completely discredits Rorate, but it certainly strikes me as much less dire than reported by the Argentine journalist Rorate cites.

The Maestro said...

Aaand Rorate just came out with this, alas:

Nick said...

Well, the joke now is that it turns out the Diocese of Buenos Aires that he was in charge of is actually only a tiny part of the BA metro area. So he ruled over something akin to the downtown of a metro area. To say that he didn't allow the TLM in such a tiny space doesn't really say much. From what I understand then, the TLMs that are taking place are taking place in the metro area just outside his jurisdiction.

It would be like saying that Dolan is Bishop of New York City and forbade the TLM, but then come to find out he was only Bishop of Manhattan. I'm not saying this is a good thing, but some perspective is very important.

When the "news" first broke, the impression everyone had was that he was Bishop over ALL of Argentina and was on an active TLM persecution spree. Then this got reduced down to the capital city. And now it's reduced down to a section of the capital city. So he isn't a fan of the TLM? What's new in the last 50 years of Popes?

On a positive note, his homily at his first mass was pretty solid. Consider these excerpts:

"we can walk as much we want, we can build many things, but if we do not confess Jesus Christ, nothing will avail. We will become a pitiful NGO, but not the Church"

"Whoever does not pray to God, prays to the devil. When one does not profess Jesus Christ, one professes the worldliness of the devil."

"there are sometimes shake-ups – there are movements that are not part of the path"

"When we walk without the Cross, when we build without the Cross, and when we profess Christ without the Cross, we are not disciples of the Lord. We are worldly, we are bishops, priests, cardinals, Popes, but not disciples of the Lord."

ALL THIS WAS IN HIS FIRST 1-PAGE LONG HOMILY. He mentioned SATAN, he mentioned no true discipleship without the Cross, and that anyone not praying to God prays to the devil.

THIS is the kind of preaching we need to hear. No flowery language, no philosophical jargon, just some straingforward stuff. The part about "shake ups" could indicate he is going to clean house.

The Maestro said...

Yes, I too was definitely impressed and quite pleased with his homily today.

Steve "scotju" Dalton said...

Nick, I don't wish to join the 'off with Pope Francis's head' bandwagon, but there are legitimate reasons for concern. Go here and see this mass he conducted as the Archbishop less than two years ago. http// This is more like a pep rally before a football game than a holy mass.

Steve "scotju" Dalton said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steve "scotju" Dalton said...

Nick, this article gives me more reasons for concern.

CitySeminarian said...

"No matter how 'bad' a Pope were to ever get, he still holds a divine office so high and grand that a real and filial level of respect is due." I couldn't agree more, and I think it would only be reasonable for us to give His Holiness a bit of a run before being too conclusive in our remarks. Even Fr Z may have struck too hard too soon re restarting the liturgy wars...the law is clear, as I discuss in my blog Blog of a City Seminarian.