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Why Must Everyone Be So Mad?

December 3, 2018 (1,168 words)

I seem to be out of step with just about everything these days. The most recent trend to have passed me by is “Catholic Outrage.” Any serious practitioner that hews to a traditionalist slant is supposed to be thoroughly fed up with Pope Francis by now, to the point of being spitting mad at everything the man says or does.

The latest papal transgression is the decision to “suppress” any vote or action on the clerical sex abuse scandal by the U.S. Bishops at their annual meeting which took place a few weeks back in Baltimore, MD. We are told by informed sources this has caused great disappointment and dismay among many in the clergy, to say nothing of the distraught laity.

While this disappointment is understandable, I see no reason to get overly worked up about it. All the Vatican’s Congregation of Bishops did was ask that the U.S. bishops not take action until after a planned worldwide meeting of Church leaders in February 2019.

That this request/directive was made known to the assembled in the opening minutes of the three-day Baltimore gathering was surely less than ideal timing, as it caught most of the 196 bishops in attendance by complete surprise. Especially considering they had decided – in an unusual move intended to display strength and empathy with survivors – to devote most their agenda to the burgeoning crisis.

Be that as it may, the larger point would appear to be how the Pope is looking to develop a coordinated, world-wide response at this stage of the crisis, rather than suffer the consequences of a possibly disjointed, country-by-country piecemeal one.

…the prerogative of a Pope to pull rank

Isn’t that his prerogative? While no one in a position of authority ever likes being told to cool their heels by a superior, why paint this fairly commonplace (if poorly timed) instance of a Pope pulling rank as some sort of dastardly “suppression” of a vote?

American Catholics, and the American public, are on the edge of their seat in anticipation of a concrete and comprehensive response from the U.S. bishops. The Vatican’s responsibility, on the other hand, is to try and assure that what the universal Church does next on this issue is as concrete and comprehensive as possible.

Having concerns and finding legitimate things to question about a papacy – or a civil authority, for that matter – is only natural. Every papacy has had its critics. The new aspect here is the way our 24/7 total access internet news cycle takes what is standard-issue concern and turns it into open disrespect, which then too easily veers into blatant ridicule.

… tarring Pope Francis as Public Enemy Number One

Anyone hell-bent on tarring Pope Francis as Public Enemy Number One certainly has that right, as a rugged, independent-minded American. But now, almost six years into his papacy, it seems we traditional Catholics enjoy discovering new things to complain about. As though we can only find our equilibrium once we settle on a certifiable villain.

We started off commenting ruefully on the way loose-cannon Francis would shoot his mouth off at every opportunity. Lately we are aghast at how he has suddenly decided to keep his own counsel, choosing not to respond publicly to the dubia (Latin for “doubts”) submitted privately to the Pope by four esteemed, international Cardinals after Amoris Laetitia (“The Joy of Love”) was promulgated in April 2016, or to Archbishop Vigano’s emotionally-wrought 7,000 word “testimony” released this past August. We shake our fist and wonder when the arrogant Francis will “break his silence.”

To the devout and well-intentioned who defend the faith by citing, chapter-and-verse, what they have been told are Francis’s imprudent transgressions, consider that every palace and political capital swirls with intrigue. Every career-minded bureaucrat or courtier on the outs – be they of the ecclesiastical or civilian variety – conspires to advance their position so as to obtain power. And the noisy disparagement of on-high leaders and rulers remains a favored pastime of commoners the world over.

While we can all agree the Church is going through a very dark time at the moment, I’m at a loss to understand those who claim Pope Francis is nothing less than the diabolical eye of the storm. He just got here in March 2013, for Pete’s sake. The clergy abuse scandal, for one thing, has been a half century in the making.

… a canonical sanction, or a gentleman’s agreement?

As to this past summer’s shocking revelations about Theodore Cardinal McCarrick, the infamous Uncle Ted was a harmless, over-the-hill octogenarian by the time Francis was elevated/elected to the papacy. McCarrick’s so- called “canonical sanction,” said to have been imposed by Benedict XVI in either 2006 or 2008 (apparently no one is quite sure when), turns out to have been more of a gentleman’s agreement, and not the iron-clad banishment Francis’s detractors now accuse him of rescinding.

Lest we forget, being Pope is a damn hard job. Regardless of how ambitious, manipulative, or “reform minded” one might be, no unworthy poseur gets to sit in the chair of Peter without at least a smidgen of support from the Holy Spirit. Each occupant will inevitably have his own personal style, and bring his own emphasis to bear on what he thinks is important to stress. This style and this emphasis will be attractive to some, and serve as a boon to their belief and practice. While at the same time it will be off-putting to others, and seen as a source of scandal verging on heresy.

This, by the way, is no different than what we encounter with our local parish priests. We may wish our pastor – to use a close-to-home example – would be a little more this, and a little less that. But the man can only be who he is, and despite his many flaws has consciously decided to devote his life to the pursuit of our eternal salvation the best (and usually only) way he knows how.

Concerning yet another area of papal behavior that has recently come under the microscope, each Pope will also have his own way of relating to the byzantine Vatican bureaucracy. It is now fashionable to write Francis off as a “dictator Pope,” while forgetting the last guy was seen as a bit too much of a push-over in this regard.

One hates to have to say it, but caterwauling about Pope Francis has become a reliable, rally-the-troops storyline for Catholic media outlets that seek to burnish their street cred as being ever so “traditional” and “orthodox.”

In a similar vein, according to the most recent poll conducted by the Pew Research Center, Pope Francis’s approval rating has plummeted among American Catholics. What an odd sentence that is to read. A Pope’s “performance in office” being evaluated on a moment-by-moment basis via a public opinion poll…

Robert J. Cavanaugh, Jr.
December 3, 2018

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