While it is not exclusive, I think much of the divide over Pope Francis concerns more traditionally minded cradle Catholics and reverts on the one hand, and traditionally minded converts.
Many of us grew up with the oral tradition of Anne Catherine Emmerich, Fatima, La Salette, and more recently Garabandal, Medjugorje, etc. Our grandmas, family friends, and even many priests warned us to be prepared for the Three Days of Darkness, False Pope, etc. When one collective narrative stands so firmly against the world we see as so clearly flawed, it can be difficult to separate out the authentic “traditional teaching” from the popular oral tradition.
Some of the most anti-Francis Catholics I know are people who were raised Catholic, fell into gravely sinful lives and returned to the Church, with a greater appreciation for the oral tradition they were partially raised with, and a mistrust of the post-conciliar permissiveness that they see as having contributed to their youthful downfalls. They’re not so much “older brothers on the porch” but more like the ex-smoker or ex-alcoholic who turns virulently anti-smoking or anti-alcoholism.
Since the Prodigal Son is often brought up in these circumstances, let me offer a modified parable that illustrates the problem more precisely. Let’s say the father in the parable had *three* sons, two of whom ran off, and, when the second son returns home, he says, “Dad, you showed me such mercy, and I was in a horrible state. Please, I’m very worried about my younger brother. I know what it’s like for him out there. Will you please go out and find him and make him come home?”
Dad says, “I can’t force him to come home unless he really wants to.”
This makes the second son very upset, especially given the rebellious tendencies that led him to stray in the first place.
So, I think that’s part of it: people talk as if Francis’s critics do not want the “prodigals” to return, yet that is precisely the problem people have with some of the Pope’s teachings: *he* sounds like he’s saying, “Go ahead and sin, stay non-Catholic, whatever you want to do. God will love you, anyway, even if you stay in the parabolic pig sty.” I don’t believe Francis really intends that message. But that is where his critics are coming from: they want to see souls saved and converted. This aspect of the controversy definitely has its ideological roots at least as far back as the Jansenists versus the Jesuits.
The other part, though, concerns the aforementioned prophecies. It can be very difficult, again, especially when those sources have been proven right in so many ways, to separate out what is authentic Tradition, etc.
To the extent that the problem is with Francis’s critics, I’d contend it’s an issue of spiritual growth, and name-calling and condemnation aren’t an effective approach with them any more than anyone else.
However, it is very easy to see why those who may have had qualms with Vatican II and the past few Popes and sympathies with “radTrads” are feeling greater inclinations in that direction. Francis could have been a virtual redux of Pope Benedict, and some of us would still have that voice in the backs of our heads for the mere fact of the Resignation. When we’ve been told to beware of a time when a Pope is driven from the Papacy and still lives while another is elected in his stead, what else can we think?
The problem is that such matters often can only be discerned in hindsight. I see little evidence from what Pope Francis has actually said that supports the narrative: indeed, some of the alleged prophecies could be read to suggest Francis will lead the Church out of the great crisis.
I’m not saying Francis’s strongest critics are right, though it’s taken me a lot of growth to get to where I am not 100% with them. Indeed, had I not been unconscious, in a hospital, fighting for my life when the infamous foot washing happened on Holy Thursday 2013, I would have been horribly scandalized by it. Part of me still suspects he’s more like “Puzzle the Donkey” in C. S. Lewis’s _Last Battle_: a kind, saintly pope who is being manipulated, not so much a wolf in sheep’s clothing as the opposite, but I do think it’s important to understand where people are coming from. I think he’s far more like St. John Paul II than some Catholics are willing to admit.
Apologetics is in some sense the rhetoric of theology, a notion I will hopefully develop more in a later post. An apologist makes the point of understanding why people think the way they do about “the Faith” and religion in general, answering their objections and explaining the faith in a way that helps their understanding. Yet many Catholic apologists whom I otherwise enjoy reading and often agree with try to insist that the obstinacy of “radTrads” (or “Radical Reactionaries” or “The Greatest Catholics of All Time,” “neo-pelagians,” or whatever the latest label is) is somehow worse than the obstinacy of liberal Catholics, Orthodox, Protestants or non-Christians, that these souls are not worth the effort of discerning and attempting to correct the flaw in their understanding.