In a recent blog post, the UK’s Fr. Ray Blake captures the unease many Catholics are feeling about Pope Francis. If you are concerned at all about the liturgy, catechesis, and canon law, these are troubling times. Here are Fr. Blake’s opening paragraphs:
The uncertainty of the last nine months seems to have affected younger clergy most of all, I mean those who studied for the priesthood under the later papacy of John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Some might say much that Benedict built has already been dismantled. The careful beautifully crafted liturgies we saw in St Peter’s that spoke eloquently of ‘the hermeneutic of reform in continuity’ have disappeared. Even that phrase has gone and so much of the language Pope Francis uses seems to be a dog whistle to the sixties and seventies, to the point where contemporaries of the Pope both clerical and lay are given more comfort than the young.
We seem to have returned to many of the issues most of us had hoped had died on the vine 30/50 years ago, a priest ordained a little after me suggested we were living in ‘time warp’. Senior clergy are thrashing about with moral issues, like communion for divorcees, communion for dissidents politicians, (there is a very good article here on politicising the Eucharist) lay groups that strove to overturn settled issues are given fresh fuel, it is almost as if some bishops are deliberately pouring petrol on the smouldering embers that in the last few decades many of us thought had almost burnt themselves out.
There is a natural and benevolent tendency for Catholics to hope for the best and want their spiritual leaders to succeed. But there are limits. On facebook today, someone commented on Fr. Blake’s piece by writing, “I trust in the Lord having chosen our Pope and will trust in where that brings us.” The Church does not teach that God chooses the Pope, only that once chosen he won’t formally teach error. We should be grateful for that, for while the overwhelming majority of Popes have been holy men, at least a few were not, and we should be loath to lay the blame for those choices on God(!). Unfortunately, the cultivated popularity of Pope John Paul II laid the groundwork for a creeping ultramontanism. The best we can do is pray, hope, evangelize, and fortify ourselves for the controversies ahead; for the last of these, we thankfully have the writings of Francis’s immediate predecessor.