Saturday, April 6, 2013

With Contrasting Styles It's Hard To Avoid Comparisons.

This would the Trads worst nightmare.  Probably not going to happen.  Francis might lease it out, but I don't think he'll sell it.

In my time off this last week, I perused a number of retro sites to get a feel for the level of angst on the Traditional side of things.  The 'outpouring' of support for Pope Francis' initiatives on Holy Thursday was remarkable for it's intensity--at least in it's opposition, and I was curious if the angst was a one shot deal or if it had deeper roots.  As I suspected, it has deeper roots.  It seems everything Francis does is perceived as a slap at Benedict.  It's not just a decision to do things differently.  There is not even very much of an argument of 'love the papal sinner, hate the papal style' thing happening.  It's all about defending Benedict's reputation from Francis' innovations.  It's almost like they personally are being attacked, and in a way, I suppose they are.  The following is an excerpt from this article by Pat Perriello on NCR.  Perriello tries to deflect some of the comparison issues between the styles of the two popes, but as the comment from a 'High Church' Catholic which follows the extract demonstrates, Perriello fails in his mission.  Personally, I don't know that anyone could succeed at that task.  The styles represent two very different views of Catholicism that just invite comparison.

......I find particularly significant Francis’ decision to take up residence outside of the papal palace. Considering that no pope has lived anywhere else in more than a hundred years, this choice is a dramatic one. Yet I think the first reports of this decision may be missing some of the more significant aspects of the move.

What I have heard most frequently in response to this is that it represents a condemnation of how Benedict XVI lived. I think that is unfair. We are talking about two individuals with different styles and different personalities. The fact that we find this step by Francis refreshing and perhaps just what the church needs at this time is not meant to denigrate Benedict for being who he is, anymore than it should denigrate Francis for not adhering to long-standing practices.

I also believe that this move is not just another expression of Francis’ humility and simplicity. It is not just that Francis has chosen to eschew the monarchical trappings of the past as important as that may be.
What augurs a truly new papacy is the freedom that this decision gives Francis to be his own person and avoid being handled by those used to wielding power in Rome. Living apart from the papal palace will provide the new pope with an opportunity to operate independently and develop his own agenda. It will provide him access to a variety of the voices around him. (Living amongst the workers also offers protection with the added benefit of a connection with the real Church the clerical Church is supposed to serve.)

It will make it more difficult for officials in Rome to tell him what he can and cannot do. He should be able to determine for himself who his closest advisors will be and what will be the priorities of his papacy. It represents the first step in letting those around him know who will be in charge.

The evidence is clear that this pope was chosen to make significant changes in Rome and in the church. He is off to a good beginning. The journey ahead will be difficult. His ability to remain independent from the curial structures that have ruled the church for too long will be critical....

And then there was this comment:

"What I have heard most frequently in response to this is that it represents a condemnation of how Benedict XVI lived. I think that is unfair." I don't. When you say things like "we find this step by Francis refreshing," you give the game away: Why does one need refreshment? As compared to whom?
When you say, "[w]e are talking about two individuals with different styles," and then characterize Francis’ style as "humility and simplicity," the implicit comparison is "unlike Benedict, whose style was elaborate pomposity. Surely you see how making that accusation directly is galling; how can you not see how making it by implication is any less so?
When you say that "Francis has chosen to eschew the monarchical trappings of the past," the implicit comparison is "unlike Benedict, who embraced the monarchical trappings of the past." Surely you see how making that accusation directly is galling; how can you not see how making it by implication is any less so?
I believe that there are some people whose praise for Francis is sincere and without guile or agenda. I am fully aware, however, that there are a great many people who couldn't stand Benedict and that vitriol is now pouring out of them in the form of drawing unflattering comparisons between Francis and an ersatz strawman Benedict. It's repulsive.


I'm not sure this whole comparison thing is repulsive so much as it is unavoidable.  No question the results are threatening to one segment of the Catholic population.  With this particular commenter, those unavoidable results make him nauseous.  He might want to examine why this is so because straw man arguments don't normally engender nausea.  What his comment really states is that symbolically demonstrating the Gospel call to conversion by prioritizing the poor, living humbly,  and practicing simplicity engenders the nausea inherent in severe cognitive dissonance.  This transition will indeed be hard for those whose orientation is to the splendor and ostentation of the High Church.  That Church worships the King of Kings who lives up there and out there and somewhere other than Earth.  It does not walk side by side with the Prophet of the Poor who lives with us, in us, and for us.  It's really difficult to practically meld those two views into a coherent whole because that kind of melding can't come from the logic of the intellect, it has to come from inclusive love of the heart.

Pope Francis has taken the papacy and conformed it as much as he can to Jesus' advice to the rich young man.  In essence Jesus' advice was to reorient that young follower's relationship with material goods:  dump them, and escape their prison and come follow Me.  The rich young man preferred to stick with his prison.  For all of EPBVXI's dense writings on how following Jesus is all about freedom, he himself was trapped in a prison of his own making which hemmed him in and negated any freedom of movement.  As his papacy progressed, that prison became more obvious.  For all the talk of Evangelization in his sermons and papal initiatives it became apparent that his prison of external symbols was leading to intellectual dead ends that left him bereft of convincing argumentation for his view of Church.  At times he resorted to the condemnation and silencing of those who advocated a Church predicated on the preferential option for the poor or the innate dignity of all humanity.  He fell back on his external authority, not his internal authenticity or the brilliance of his intellectual argumentation.  The High Church that he symbolized was exposed as a conductor for hypocrisy, clericalism and corruption.  In the end he freed himself from this prison by using Peter's keys to unchain himself from the papacy.  

At this point I think Benedict might be the last person in the world who cares about how his enactment of the papacy compares with that of Francis.  Benedict can't be oblivious to the fact that the simple approach of Francis' has stirred the waters of Catholicism and stirred them very deeply.  This could never have been accomplished by Benedict's personal preference for the 'High Church'.  Authenticity comes from the cohesion of personal truth and living that truth with integrity. Deep stirring isn't accomplished by swirling the waters at the top, it comes from an authenticity that roils water at the depths of the human heart. Pope Benedict was good at engaging the head, Pope Francis is aiming much deeper.  It's that deeper targeting that is bringing on the cognitive dissonance for High Church Catholics.  Francis is hitting his target.


  1. Thank you for this commentary. I think in the end B16 understood where the Church was headed under his papacy: headed for a head on collision into a brick wall. He used his brilliance to come up with a way to (hopefully) save it. I wonder if the Trads will ever fully appreciate the monumental sacrifice of B16 towards his beloved Church.

    To observe the difference in styles and appreciate the change, we are only recognizing the fact that many of us saw the wall quickly approaching, and are breathing a sigh of relief.

  2. BronxirishcatholicApril 6, 2013 at 12:24 PM

    Interesting that personal loyalty to the Pope is the fundamental tenet of Catholicism only as long as the traditionalists have a pope they agree with.

    At the same time, I don't buy the idea that Pope Francis is some sort of liberal. Rather, he is a different sort of conservative looking to bolster the church from the bottom up.

  3. I don't think he's liberal in any sense other than he prioritizes social justice issues and poverty. I also don't think he's inclined to make pelvic issues the end all and be all of Catholicism, and I think that would be a welcome change.

  4. Yes, it does truly fit for all parties.

  5. I guess one only appreciates a change in top leadership when the change means no change, so I don't think the Trads will be thanking EPBXVI any time soon. However, Francis hasn't issues any edicts implementing any changes in anything Benedict did regarding liturgy, so I'm not quite sure all the angst is warranted at this point.

  6. BronxirishcatholicApril 7, 2013 at 4:40 PM

    True. A bunch of mostly closeted men engaged in scapegoating is not the route to a healthy and loving church, and will run off the vast majority of millennials in middle-income and wealthy countries.