A Pope of the People?

There once was a cardinal from a country with a large Catholic population but a secular, anti-Catholic government. He had something of a reputation in his homeland, in Rome, and among the Catholic commentariat, if you will, but wasn’t really known to the average priest or layperson, or especially most non-Catholics. As a bishop and Cardinal, he seemed to be just like the bishop in Les Miserables. He didn’t like to be addressed as “Your Emminence,” “Your Excellency,” or even “Father,” but told people to call him “Uncle.” He enjoyed hiking and outdoor sports, and preferred hanging out with laity to clergy, and when he hung out with clergy, he didn’t “pull rank”–even to the extent that, on a weekend vacation with various priests, an old monseignor, not knowing who he was, decided to boss around the unassuming middle-aged “priest,” until the monseignor was embarrased to learn he had spent the weekend ordering a cardinal to fetch his tea or his newspaper.
When a papacy was suddenly cut short, there was an emergency conclave though it seemed one had just happened recently. There were rumors that this cardinal had been a front runner during the previous conclave, or that another cardinal had actually been elected first then rejected because of political lobbying, but either way people suggested for almost his entire papacy that this popular, populist cardinal was actually a communist agent.
He was elected Pope, and shocked the world with his unassuming greeting. For the first few years of his Papacy, he seemed to embody the “hopes” of the Vatican II generation for a “radical” who would strip away wall the remaining trappings and traditions. He appointed some key bishops and cardinals who emphasized a “pastoral” approach. He shunned some of the security measures and other trappings of the papacy to be “close to the people.” A few of his appointments, most notably his Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith, seemed to have a more “conservative” or “traditional” bent. His erstwhile admirers began to be concerned that that he wasn’t the Pope they’d been looking for, although those inclined to mistrust him largely retained their mistrust.
Then, after a time, something happened. He was shot. After, he adopted more security. His teachings became more bold. His appointments became, generally, more “traditional.” Within a few years, though some of those who suspected he was a secret Communist never relinquished that view, even as he helped topple communist and other secular regimes around the world, but the progressives who had embraced him early on began to denounce him as a traditonalist and a reactionary. They began to express hope that he’d die soon so they could get a “Pope who will get rid of all that canon law stuff, allow contraception and divorce and abortion and women priests. . . . ” When he or his prefects at the CDF and the CDW issued strong statements on moral or liturgical issues, they’d say things like, “he’s trying to stop his successor from making the changes we want.” Yet when his CDF prefect became his successor, they ignored him.
And now I think we’re seeing the same process with Francis that we saw 30 years ago with St. John Paul II.

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