I have convert friends who rightly worry that traditional Catholics, in criticizing Pope Francis, tend towards a Protestant mentality. I
Conversely, I have convert friends who feel that Pope Francis’s teachings and praxis–telling an Anglican friend *not* to become a Catholic for example–have undermined their reasons for conversion.
Many worry that criticism of Francis undermines their faith in the Church Herself. Perhaps–but that criticism is only the symptom. There is a point at which we have to stop saying “It’s a mistranslation,” or “It’s just the media.” The Holy Father knows fully well what people are saying he said, and he’s had ample opportunity to correct misconceptions. In many cases, he’s “doubled down” on comments like “Who am I to judge” and the infamous “promethean neo-pelagian” invective.
If he did not want to create certain impressions, he wouldn’t create them.
However, to say that Catholics who point out the problems, whether those who look at the implications of his phrasing while supporting the orthodoxy of his words or those who accuse the Pope of outright heresy, are the problem is proverbially shooting the messenger.
Instead of trying to understand the fears and concerns of many tradition-minded Catholics about the Pope’s words and deeds, many in the middle and conservative wings of the Church are merely joining the Pope in condemning “Older brothers on the Porch” who “don’t want to see converts returning to the Church” and “Just look for reasons to hate Francis the way the Pharisees looked for reasons to hate Jesus.”
Here’s my perspective, as a temperamentally traditionalist cradle Catholic who grew up in the 80s and 90s, who grew up with priests as frequent dinner guests, devout parents with devout friends, who was reading _Catholic Answers_ in my early teens.
For me, the Francis Papacy seems to be the fulfillment of two equal and opposite narratives/predictions I grew up with. On the one hand there were the priests, “church ladies,” etc., who showed commitment to protecting the unborn, devotion to Our Lady and the Saints, etc., and spoke or recommended books about alleged and approved apparitions. So on this side were the warnings (cf. _Pierced by a Sword_) of a time when a pope would be forced into hiding–either exiled from Rome or imprisoned in the Vatican itself–and replaced with a Pope who would be the first to change defined teaching, probably on matters of sexual morality.
On the other hand, there were the ones who said, “Vatican II got rid of that” about everything that seemed “cool” about Catholicism–not just Latin, but popular devotions, Indulgences, Mary and the Saints, and so on–who were more concern about social activism than spirituality, and who spoke longingly of how, “A time will come when this old Pope [St. John Paul] dies and we get a Pope who will truly follow Vatican II and get rid of Canon Law, allow priests to marry, allow divorce and birth control, . . . .”
I heard nearly those exact words on more than one occasion. A noteworthy example was a daily Mass “homily” in late 2002. The priest claimed that the “only divine laws are the Ten Commandments, and everything else was man-made.” He mocked the Church for having Canon Law, mocked the 1917 and 1983 codes, and expressed the aforementioned hope. Before I could write to the bishop, the priest had resigned, amidst a pornography scandal in which, ironically, he had previously been protected by Canon Law.
So, now, we have a Pope who keeps hinting at such changes, who has brought back into the forefront cardinals and bishops like Walter Kasper, whose retirement Pope Benedict had readily accepted, and who keeps saying the same kinds of things the priests in the latter group would say. It’s no wonder that many with a similar or more traditional background than my own are highly suspicious, at best, of the present Holy Father.
I’m still holding out hope that Pope Francis is like Pope Liberius, speaking ambiguously to hold the Church together, but that didn’t turn out well for Pope Liberius.
Regardless, after 3 years of trying to articulate my own concern, reading the synopsis of a recent homily that sounds like so many others, I finally got it. My convert friends who don’t want to hear Pope Francis criticized because they feel it undermines the Catholic faith are, as I said, putting the blame in the wrong place.
When the Pope says his critics are “following the Law” and ignoring the “Will of God,” when he says of changing an ancient ritual that copies something Christ did by saying, “It’s what Christ would do” (even though He precisely didn’t), the implication is clear: the Pope thinks, or sympathizes with those who think, that the Church before his Papacy, or at least before Vatican II, was *not* doing the will of God, was not doing what Christ would do. He is the one saying the Church is not infallible, not those of us who question or challenge some of the things he teaches.
Oh, wait, saying the Church is infallible is “triumphalism.” As a FB friend who’s a priest said, “A shepherd who pats a wandering sheep on the head and applauds his conscientious decision to leave the flock isn’t helping anyone but the wolf.”