Under Pope Benedict XVI, the ideological stance of the papacy was “no enemies to the right.” There was the preferential option for Opus Dei and the Legion of Christ, the outreach to the St. Pius X Society, the kowtowing to traditionalists via the revival of the Latin Mass and the encouragement of old devotions, the appointment of hard-line bishops and the pumping up of their magisterial authority.
Of course, the right was less than satisfied. Benedict did not prove to be quite the hammer of the left that he’d been as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). The return to liturgical tradition, symbolized by the return of episcopal lace and trains, amounted to less than met the eye. Pro-choice politicians weren’t barred from the Eucharist. And at least in official pronouncements, there was little backing away from longstanding Catholic concerns for social justice and welfare, little growth in enthusiasm for the magic of the capitalist market.
Still, traditionalist Catholics never doubted that Benedict was one of them. Pope Francis, it’s now clear, is not.
It’s not just that he’s living up to his namesake in simplicity of dress, modesty of living arrangements, and true devotion to the poor. It’s that he has shown, in his supposedly offhand remarks, that he sees threats to the Church on the right as well as on the left. Last week, at an audience with the leaders of religious orders from Latin America and the Caribbean, he suggested that they not be “bothered” by getting some criticism from the CDF:
They will make mistakes, they will make a blunder [meter la pata], this will pass! Perhaps even a letter of the Congregation for the Doctrine (of the Faith) will arrive for you, telling you that you said such or such thing… But do not worry. Explain whatever you have to explain, but move forward… Open the doors, do something there where life calls for it. I would rather have a Church that makes mistakes for doing something than one that gets sick for being closed up…
He then proceeded to share two of his worries, one about Pelagian types eager to restore the pre-Vatican II ancien regime, the other about Gnostic types attracted to pantheism: “The gospel is not the old rule, nor this Pantheism. If you look at the periphery; the destitute… the drug addicts! The traffic of people… This is the gospel. The poor are the gospel…”
No wonder that the conservative folks over at Rorate Caeli are outraged, that Catholic ex-patriot Rod Dreher is scandalized. Francis is calling the traditionalists’ whole restorationist agenda into question. The poor are the gospel, not rosaries and letters from the CDF. The image of a smaller, purist Church is not Francis’.
And so the regime of the conservatives begins to totter. Consider their coordinated assault on the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, as detailed in a new report by John Gehring of Faith in Public Life. With false accusations and guilt by association, bishops around the country have been persuaded to stop CCHD’s funding of and participation in coalitions dedicated to helping the poor.
The message from the pope is for those dedicated to helping the poor to keep moving forward. Avanti!