If you are a typical observant Catholic who has struggled with this papacy, dealt with distress caused by his words and actions, and generally struggled with dislike for the pontifex, it’s OK. Well, all right, it’s not: honestly, it is both strange and painful for a Catholic to be at odds with the Successor of Peter.
It is, however, completely understandable.
Why? Because, in this case, he gives every indication of not liking you first.
In fact, I think it’s safe to say that we are dealing with the fascinating–and unique–spectacle. Namely, a Bishop of Rome who truly dislikes the Church.
Except as cautionary tales, he has no apparent use for Catholics who risk all to be faithful to unpopular teachings, who find value in allegedly outdated forms and supposedly archaic and incomprehensible language, who propose solutions grounded in past experience or the fundamentals of the Church, who practice traditional devotions, who defend the words (as opposed to the “spirit”) of Catholic doctrine…the list could be multiplied. Consider the first major writing of the pontificate which was purely his, with its exhortation to boldly rethink the goals of evangelization, amongst other modest suggestions. Though that same document does wisely point us to the need of focusing more on the Word of God and not the Pope (see paragraph 38).
Word doesn’t seem to have gotten out on that one yet.
Then again, when he associates himself with and supports people asking him to overrule the Word of God, perhaps we have something of a mixed message here.
Really, he’s not into gatekeeping with respect to the sacraments. You want the Eucharist because you’re married to a Catholic? Eh. Talk to the Lord and approach the altar–it’s not for him to say.
Lest we forget, there’s also his notorious penchant for scoldery, directed at anyone with the temerity to not fully embrace the joy mandated by the New Paradigm.
If there is one word that sums up his leadership mindset, it is quite simply the word “change.” Take a look at the links above to the speech before the Italian bishops and his apostolic exhortation.
The thread that appears over and over is the need to change the methods and structure of the Church, constant change, unrelenting change, semper reformanda, because the times require it and the Church must discern the signs of the times and adjust accordingly. However, asking whether the times themselves might be desperately out of whack is not part of this process of discernment. Newness is the watchword.
From climate to sacristy, change, change, change—forward, always forward! If you seek certitudes and stability, you are the picture of the bad disciple, a Pelagian, a neurotic or possibly even a coprophagic bat. Someone so focused on change and moving forward has no use for the Church as She is.
I mean, if I professed my love for my wife and then proceeded to offer a seemingly endless list of criticisms and things she needed to change, she’d have reasonable cause to doubt that love. Not to mention cause to heave blunt and heavy household objects at me.
With that in mind, let’s focus on four recent statements.
Perhaps in keeping with his own injunction to boldly rethink evangelical goals, the pontiff has sternly warned against evangelism in Catholic schools.
Ponder that for a moment: the head of the Catholic Church doesn’t want to see any conversions in Catholic schools. 
As this recent barely-satire posting from Eye of the Tiber points out, there’s usually no danger whatsoever of that occurring–at least, not in terms of converting to Catholicism.
And how many times have you heard ex-Catholics talk about their (laughable) Catholic schooling as some kind of certification of expertise?
I rest my case.
But still, to explicitly rule it out? Well, then.
Why? Who knows? If there’s one thing we’ve learned since March 2013, it’s that our hip-shooting shepherd has two rules for his eye-openers:
- Never explain.
- Never apologize.
From what I can tell, conversions would bogart the culture of encounter or the joys of dialogue, or something similar. Don’t stomp the buzz of otherness.
Alas, such an edict happens to be entirely congruent with his past words and practices. For example, consider the fact that he successfully counseled his close friend, the late Anglican cleric Tony Palmer, against converting to Catholicism despite the latter’s interest in doing so. Then there are the reports from other Christians where the Pope takes great pains to say that he has no interest in converting anyone to Catholicism.
Converts: Making Dialogue Difficult Since 33 A.D.
The pattern is there for anyone who doesn’t belt out “Everything Is Awesome” a half-dozen times a day. However, you are free to ignore the evidence.
It is, after all, a catchy tune:
- Attack of the Rigid Neurotic Fundamentalists.
Permit me to hearken back to this otherwise weird moment:
As it turns out, the above video offers some helpful context for another recent bit of flamethrowing, a faux-humorous warning against “rigid fundamentalist priests who bite.”
“I will tell you sincerely, I’m scared of rigid priests,” the 78-year-old pope jokingly said. “I keep away from them. They bite!”
Pope Francis used humour [sic] to convey his message concerning a serious matter. A lot of unstable individuals seek out a clerical career, he explained, and unless they are weeded out properly by the church, the faithful will suffer.
This is why the pope strongly suggests that seminaries should always assess not just the spiritual state of candidates but also their physical and psychological condition. “There are often young men who are psychologically unstable without knowing it and who look for strong structures to support them. For some it is the police or the army but for others it is the clergy,” the pope said.
He warned that these disorders only manifest at a later date, so it will not be easy to spot it from the get-go.
However, the pope said he personally finds it worrisome when a priest takes pride in being extremely devout.
“When a youngster is too rigid, too fundamentalist, I don’t feel confident (about him). Behind it there is something he himself does not understand. Keep your eyes open!”
“If you are sick, if you are neurotic, go and see a doctor, spiritual or physical,” Pope Francis then suggested to those who might be unfit to join the church. “The doctor will give you pills. But, please, don’t let the faithful pay for neurotic priests.”
Apparently, in the video above, the Pope was just trying to screen out a little disturbed structure-seeking piety before it was too late. Whew–dodged the bullet with that helpful intervention! As another observer has pointed out, the Pope’s terminology and focus are precisely those used–verbatim–by the vocation-destroying programs described in Goodbye, Good Men. Welcome to your new springtime, tradition-hating gatekeepers–now you have papal writ to back you up!
(Oh, and hi, Catholic soldiers and police officers–always nice to hear the old canard that your honorable institutions are teeming with the unbalanced, eh? Especially from the Pope! But rest assured, he truly respects your sacrifices: if you are an Argentine soldier engaged in aggressive war against a defenseless neighbor.)
Of course, the warning is a touch ironic coming from a man who admitted to a stretch as an authoritarian with a spiritual crisis himself… Perhaps he points to that? But no, there’s no cautionary lesson from personal experience. It’s simply another of his crude caricatures of a spirituality he has no use for. A veritable Pollock with the broadbrush, our Pope.
Note also that that’s the only thing he’s warning seminaries against–strongly-expressed piety and focus on the fundamentals of the Faith. And from young men, too: apparently, that hagan lio recommendation to the young people has its limits. He’ll have none of that mess. Right, FFIs?
I recently read a piece (since deleted) castigating the “disloyal sons of Francis.” However, it’s hard to embrace as a father one who fails to model a healthy, positive fatherhood. I dunno about you, but if I talked down my family all the time, should I be surprised if my children react accordingly? I certainly would not have any cause to play the victim over it.
- The kicker that no doubt left church ladies everywhere nodding in admiration: the Pontiff declared Christmas celebrations to be a “charade” because wars are being fought.
Speaking during Mass at the Casa Santa Maria, he said: “We are close to Christmas. There will be lights, there will be parties, bright trees, even Nativity scenes – all decked out – while the world continues to wage war.
“It’s all a charade. The world has not understood the way of peace. The whole world is at war.
“A war can be justified, so to speak, with many, many reasons, but when all the world as it is today, at war, piecemeal though that war may be – a little here, a little there – there is no justification.”
Sweet fancy Moses.
If you’re picturing your crabby aunt telling you to clean your plate because there are people starving somewhere overseas, you have the gist of it. No nativity scene for you! Never mind that the people who are celebrating Christmas probably aren’t the arms dealers he natters on about, or just might be in those war zones and hoping for a sign of Christ’s peace and joy.
Nope—those who celebrate the Feast of the Nativity are part of the problem. No doubt, some spiritual self-flagellants took this to heart and are nodding at the perceived depth of the observations. If you are one of them, remember: you’re just fooling yourself. We have it on good authority that that kind of piety is neurotic.
- And Finally, The Papal Bull Against Fundamentalists (Again).
Just in time for Advent, another tarmac interview. The subjects? The scourge of Catholic fundamentalism—which is flat-out idolatrous now:
Whoever is a priest, pastor, imam, rabbi, this is his vocation, but they make a “live politics” by preaching values. True values. And one of the greatest values is the fraternity among us. We are all children of God. We have the same father. In this sense, we have to make politics of unity, reconciliation. A word that I don’t like, but I have to use it is “tolerance.” But, not only tolerance, co-existence, friendship. That’s how it is.
Fundamentalism is a sickness that exists in all religions. We Catholics have some, not just some, so many, who believe they have the absolute truth and they move forward with calumnies, with defamation and they hurt (people), they hurt. And, I say this because it’s my Church, also us, all of us. It must be combatted. Religious fundamentalism isn’t religious. Why? Because God is lacking. It’s idolatrous, as money is idolatrous. Making politics in the sense of convincing these people who have this tendency is a politics that we religious leaders must make, but fundamentalism that ends up always in tragedy or in crime, in a bad thing comes about in all religions a little bit.
There are so many Catholic fundamentalists, people who believe they have the absolute truth, idolatrous calumniators who defame and hurt others. And they are just like the idolatrous fundamentalists in all religions.
The problem is not where to begin, but where to end.
I am going to sound like a nitnoid fundamentalist, but Jesus Christ has a prior claim to ownership of His Church.
Let’s move to the fallacy of false equivalence—here, all fundamentalists are morally equivalent.
I might be wrong, but I think it’s at least possible a Yazidi sex slave would be a touch happier around a defamatory Chaldean than her ISIS captor.
But leaving aside a logical error one can drive a freighter through, it offers a sobering insight into the Pontiff’s thinking. Namely, he thinks there’s a problem with believing in absolute truth, in that it makes people hurtful, and he also thinks there are “so many” such godless idolaters in the Church. Or perhaps he just means those who believe in absolute truth and act with calumny despite it?
Well, here’s the thing: he doesn’t say. And he’s not going to say. He’s just going to leave it hanging, because hagan lio. Never explain, never apologize.
Will it naturally bear the meaning I assign? Yep. Does it fit as part of a pattern, perhaps relating back to the hurtful fundamentalists who defend Christ’s words on marriage that he’s criticized so strongly? It most certainly fits.
(There’s also a bit further down in the most recent presser where he may—or may not—be suggesting that we don’t worry about condoms so long as people are hungry or trafficking in arms, but it’s so hard to puzzle out that I think he deserves the benefit of the doubt on that one.)
So, to sum up:
First, no conversions. A Catholic school is no place to encounter the saving love of Christ in His Church. Well, at least not enough to welcome those interested in leaping on over.
However, if you are non-Catholic attending Mass, you can talk to God and decide on your own whether to go up to the Catholic altar without having to believe the rest of that papist rigamarole like going to confession or even believing in transubstantiation. He won’t judge.
In addition, no outward shows of piety. You have no idea what is lurking inside of you, creep.
No defense of anything more than the “spirit” of doctrine. Only those who try to find ways around doctrine truly love it.
Dedicating yourself to the letter of doctrine, scripture, etc., is for fundamentalists and other bad-faith pseudo-Christians who likely are getting their nativity scenes from the attic as you read this.
Do NOT express appreciation for structure. (This is train-wreck fascinating, coming from a Jesuit who undergoes a long, carefully-structured process leading to ordination, but no matter.) So much for poverty, chastity, obedience–in fact, so much for pretty much the entire monastic world. Hope none of you ostentatious Benedictine or Dominican oddballs ever want to preach in a parish.
Plus, we have to change, change, change! There are no solutions to be found in so-called conservatism or the fundamentals. Good-bye, archaic forms and language—hello, novelty! OK, recycled novelty, circa AD 1968, but we’ll pretend otherwise.
For the Love of Lennon, what kind of monster lights up a Christmas tree when there’s a war going on?
And, finally: the Church is aswarm with idolatrous fundamentalists, and thus the Church has a problem like that of Islamic fundamentalism.
If you’re not left with the distinct impression of a person whose idiosyncracies leave him fundamentally disliking wide swaths of Catholic spirituality and practice, I’ll simply redirect you back to the first video included in this essay. Note that it runs for an hour, so–enjoy! And go back to sit at the kiddie table. The adults are talking here.
The pattern is self-evident, alas: Catholic identity is pitted against his modern interpretation of the Gospel, and the former loses every. single. time. In increasingly vituperative language, to boot.
Note also that the tilt is always in favor of lowering the standards imposed by Catholicism, not raising them. He thinks re-reading the Gospel according to the all-determinative signs of the times requires it. The trajectory is toward dispensing with any serious demands upon the faithful apart from a sort of hovering non-judgmentalism and striving to address material–and only material–problems. Perhaps his close advisor Walter Cardinal Kasper put it best when he said that “heroism is not for the average Christian.“ Indeed, that seems to be the heart of it: an effort to reduce Catholic praxis and discipleship to the absolute daily minimum required by the demands of modernity. Solidarity with the poor is paramount–the rest of it can be finessed. And will be.
No doubt the combox will soon sprout huffing defenders appalled by the argument that the Pope dislikes Catholicism. When he starts professing love for Mother Church and the faithful he routinely condemns, we can talk. Until then, the facts speak for themselves.
1. I know the text says “proselytizing.” And? Consider that he has used that term interchangeably with the term “conversion” in his chat-ups with go-to journalist Eugenio Scalfari. One can, of course, choose to ignore this evidence. I readily concede that such might be comforting.
More to the point, I choose not to exhaust myself trying to spin a man who speaks in sweeping generalities, routinely erects and torches strawmen, traffics in false dichotomies, sweeping condemnations and the like. The fact is, he can be honestly interpreted in the way I suggest in this essay, and he knows that his speaking style opens him up to criticism. Nevertheless, he continues to do so. Thus, I will continue to interpret him in ways congruent with his overall words and actions, and not the demands of indignant papalist spin doctors.