We have put up with a lot as Catholics, and we all have our breaking points—some at different moments and for different reasons.
“The straw that broke the camel’s back” refers to increasing the load on a beast of burden until the “final straw” makes the beast collapse. “Beast of burden” is a key concept, as we are talking about an animal that does not have a glorious existence, and is actually quite rugged, yet even the camel has its limits. In addition, we might imagine a scenario wherein the camel is treated in such a way where the master knowingly places more and more weight on the animal, knowing full well that eventually an end will be reached.
When we consider the life of Catholics in the last few decades, our masters, it seems, tend to place more and more burdens on our shoulders, all while expecting that we must shoulder the weight of the continual poundage. They bind heavy and insupportable burdens, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but with a finger of their own they will not move them (Mt. 23:4). Just like the camel who keeps trucking along even though structural collapse is imminent, so too have we put up with considerable baggage that has weighed us down to the point of not being able to continue.
It has been very difficult to find any true Catholicism for decades. There are a litany of reasons for this, which I will not go into here. But I think one of our greatest sources of disappointment has been the state of the Papacy itself.
It is a good and traditional thing for a Catholic to love and revere the Pope. Of course he is the Holy Father. He is the Roman Pontiff. Thus it makes sense for us to piously think of him in the best possible light. Thou shalt not curse the prince of thy people (Ex. 22:28). But just like the camel, we all have limits, and it seems as if the Pope has crossed the line of reasonably giving him the benefit of the doubt.
Piously thinking the best about the pope can turn to excess which goes beyond reason. This “popesplaining” has led to more than enough excuses by pious Catholics of things that are inexcusable. I am not advocating for an arbitrarily negative outlook on any pope; he is the pope, if he does something good, then we should rejoice. But I think what has happened with Pope Francis has made many Catholics—who only a little while ago would have explained away any papal error—say “Enough!”
It’s almost as if the papacies of Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI weren’t “bad enough.” Did Paul VI oversee the beginnings of the seeming auto-destruction of the Liturgy? Sure, but he also put out the Credo against the swarming heresies and of course Humanae Vitae. This allowed a conservative Catholic to think to himself, “Well, things aren’t good, but the Pope is clearly orthodox.” How about John Paul II? He may have bungled the Marcel Lefebvre situation and seems to have participated—at least materially—in events of religious indifferentism. But he did speak strongly and bravely against Communism, and he wrote thoughtful documents that edified many of the faithful. And Pope Benedict? He may have been less effective than we had hoped in cleaning up the Church, and he did resign at a moment when we needed him the most. However, he did seem to vindicate Marcel Lefebvre in 2007 by affirming that the Latin Mass was “never juridically abrogated and, consequently, in principle, was always permitted,” besides producing some excellent theological works.
But Pope Francis is a whole different story. Granted, he opened up more freedom for the SSPX to operate and clarified that the faithful could access the Sacraments through them. He did initiate the year of Saint Joseph, and has uttered the odd remark in an interview or homily that comes off as orthodox. However, with his recent maneuvering where he has attempted to corral traditional Catholics to his beloved “peripheries,” it seems that any good he may have done was political appeasement. His gestures to the SSPX have been nice, but clearly he is not concerned with Tradition—or even a fan of it—if we consider his recent actions.
The burden of popesplaining was easy for many Catholics at first. His airplane interviews could be brushed off as non-doctrinal. His disturbing interviews with the Italian newspaper La Repubblica could be explained away as the ravings of an elderly atheist journalist who doesn’t take notes.
But the burden to explain Pope Francis began to grow as conservative Catholics—who are right-wing politically—tried to square the round peg of the Pope’s environmentalism with Catholic doctrine. It was quite a sight to see a fossil-fuel-loving Republican Catholic apologist weave a confusing yarn to explain why the Pope should be admonishing the faithful for driving vehicles and using air-conditioners.
But these things were just the beginning. As time went on, the burden got heavier and even conservative names such as Edward Feser and Eduardo Echeverria joined Roberto de Mattei and others in the Appeal to the Cardinals of the Catholic Church concerning Pope Francis and the death penalty.
Still, we saw the lengths various apologists would go to extract an orthodox interpretation out of Amoris Laetitia. But then Francis allowed a heterodox interpretation, and said there are “no other interpretations.” Thus the burden was getting too much for great conservative theologians like Fr. Aidan Nichols, who signed on with Peter Kwasniewski in “accusing Pope Francis of the canonical delict of heresy.”
Then came the obeisance given to the Pachamama idol. More and more, the burden of popesplaining was becoming too great for many Catholics.
With Traditionis Custodes, the current Roman Pontiff has added, as it were, the final burden to break us. Now that he has made his thoughts clear on orthodox Catholicism and the Traditional Roman Rite, I think many agree that Pope Francis will go down in history as the “Pope who broke the camel’s back.” There is no more popesplaining to be done at this point. It’s over.
We should rejoice in this, however, as the battle lines have been drawn for everyone to see, and more and more Catholics will wake up to the fact that the fight has been going on for a long time, and that we must abandon an exaggerated papalism, a false “Spirit of Vatican I.” These are troubling times, but they are also exciting times. Whatever happens, we can stop pretending that—at least for now—Rome will do anything to help us. We must cling to the faith of our ancestors, never put down our rosaries, and attend Mass where we know we should. The numbers will only grow as Pope Francis continues down this path against tradition.
Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons.