I'm starting to get sick to my stomach with the non-stop slew of posts with gloomy-themed comments regarding Pope Francis. Why are so many Catholics, especially among traditionalists, so worried about Pope Francis? Ever since the election of Francis a storm of radically disappointed gloom-filled traditionalists has surged, and it's really soured my experience at certain blogs. Now before I go onto make any further comments, I don't want people fallaciously accusing me of blindly supporting anything and everything the Pope does and treat it as pure gold. I don't do that, but more importantly, that's not the point. The point is that people are blowing things way out of proportion, and I fear it's leading them to the brink of apostasy. That's what's more concerning, and I'm surprised more people aren't alarmed by that eminent danger.
I'm just going to say what my gut is telling me the real problem is here. Coinciding with the rise of traditionalism was the death of Bl. John Paul II and the election of Benedict in 2005. The election of Benedict was a huge sigh of relief for the traditionalist blogosphere, since he had a well known track record of wanting to clean things up in the Church, despite whatever flaws he also had.
Of course, things completely were shaken up with Benedict's sudden "resignation," and traditionalists were terrified that all the progress made through Benedict could be undone in an instant, sending us right back to the nightmarish 1970s. And their "fears" were "confirmed" when Francis walked out on the Papal balcony. From that instant, a very ugly and gloomy raincloud came over the traditionalist movement and just parked itself there. The most slanderous things I've heard were spewed in comment boxes; people assumed the absolute worst. After a day or so I couldn't take it and basically stopped following many big name traditionalist blogs. It was just strange the way all the hope and overall good direction the Church was going were eclipsed by folks assuming the worst. I understand why they did this, since they didn't want the Church to endure anymore hell, but they lost sight of the bigger picture. The truth is, the Church isn't going in "reverse" by any reasonable measure. The Liberals in the Church are by now in nursing homes. There is a fresh, young traditionalist movement growing rapidly and going mainstream, even to the point the term "traditionalist" is becoming less and less necessary. Francis isn't going to destroy the Church, and even if he wanted to, what could he really do? Not much.
Then out of left field came the "Papal Interviews," with Francis making some strange sounding off-the-cuff remarks that confused and scandalized many. And with this, the gloom increased exponentially, with traditionalists making outrageous comments along the lines of: "I don't know why anyone would want to join the Church" and "The gloves are now off" (referring to bare-knuckled punching) as far as his criticism was concerned regarding the Pope's sure intent to destroy everything.
The truth is, as unwise as it is for Popes to give "interviews," and granting the Pope used some poor choice of words here and there, the fact is the Pope didn't say anything heretical. Not by a long shot, and especially not if you tried to read them in a charitable light. Yeah, you can latch onto a phrase here and there, but really the interviews weren't a big deal. Nothing of any significance took place. The enemies of the Church remained enemies, since even they recognized the Church hadn't actually changed anything. In fact, the most damage was done by certain traditionalist blogs going into overdrive to generate hype, fear, and anger. And since many of these blogs rely on the very anti-traditionalist consumerist mentality of always needing to produce fresh stories, this meant they had to come up with dirt on a daily basis, whether there really was dirt or not.
Even worse, the Catholic blogosphere as a whole missed an excellent opportunity to take some real gems out of the Pope's words. Again, this isn't to say everything he said was pleasant to hear, but he actually provided some badly-needed insight into serious problems in the world. Let's briefly consider what are thought to be his two most scandalous (some even say near heretical) comments:
The first most scandalous comment was when the Pope said we cannot spend so much time talking about sexual issues. This was (wrongly but understandably) interpreted as an attack on the Church's dogmatic moral teachings, almost as if Francis was saying sexual issues are irrelevant so we all just should live as we please and stop fighting to end abortion! But that's really not what the Pope was getting at. What he was saying is that Christianity is a divinely revealed religion, not a mere moral-philosophy. If all we are concerned about is morals, then we've done a terribly heretical thing: we've humanized the Gospel and made it all about doing good works. Francis was saying we cannot lose sight of the fact a relationship with the Resurrected Jesus is what Catholicism is all about, and the moral teachings are rightly subordinate to this.
The second most scandalous comment was when Francis said the "worst problem" the world faces today is unemployment among young adults and loneliness among the elderly. This was (wrongly but understandably) interpreted as the Pope saying that grace, the Trinity, salvation, faith, and all that stuff is irrelevant, and what really matters is helping the poor. This (understandably) reeked of the Liberal "social justice" (falsely so-called) scourge that hit the Church in the 1960s-90s. But as some observant traditionalists rightly recognized, Francis was actually saying something very traditional. Francis said that unemployment and loneliness were producing a wide-spread despair among the upcoming generation and the outgoing generation. This hopelessness was, in turn, going to completely destroy the faith of many and shut out the Gospel to many more. He was restating the timeless truth of authentic Catholic Social Teaching: As long as a person's physical needs are not being met, they will be greatly hindered from getting their spiritual needs met. In plain English, it's hard to have a good prayer life worship God if you and your family aren't getting your daily needs met (or even starving to death). The truth is, there are millions of young adults who cannot find work because of the injustice of our modern economic systems. This upcoming generation cannot move forward in life, they cannot get married. They're stuck. This is partly why so many are cohabiting and wasting away playing Grand Theft Auto. They don't see any future on the horizon. The good news of the Gospel falls on deaf ears. They lose faith just as Europe did when millions of survivors saw the unimaginable, ungodly carnage of the great wars of the 20th century. They said there's no way there is a God if things are this bad.
This post is long enough and there's really not much more to say other than people need to stop panicking. Look at the big picture. Nothing is going south by a long shot. Not everything is great, but nothing is signalling the Great Tribulation is just around the corner. As Fr Z recently said: Step away from the ledge!