Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Disconcerted by Francis #3

I know from recent personal experience how the media can destroy or at least badly one's reputation. Whatever Pope Benedict did from the moment he stood on the balcony of St Peter's wearing his black jumper under the Papal cassock with his black plastic watch on his wrist the media hated him. The build up to the Papal visit here in the UK indicated a flop, the media spread stories of massed anti-Pope demonstrations, even the prospect of arrest, every interview tried to suggest he personally was responsible for clerically child abuse rather than the one who chose to deal with it, then he arrived and his gentle courteous humility seemed to change hearts.

Cardinal Suenens visited the seminary I was in after the election of Pope John Paul II, I met him in the corridor and in brief conversation asked what Cardinals did after electing a Pope, his answer was, 'prepare for the next Conclave'. The speed of Pope Francis' election would suggest that he had already secured the block vote of the Curia, and probably a proportion of the Italian electors before he even entered the Conclave. As runner-up to Ratzinger in the previous Conclave his election was probably not such a surprise to him, and those who had taken part in the previous Conclave, as it was to most of us. It would be foolish to think that likely candidates for the Papacy do not think through, and even discuss with others, the first few months of their tenure if the are elected.

Considering the negative media coverage of his predecessor it would be not unnatural for Pope Francis to have considered, and received advice about his image before his election, nor would it have been foolish or cynical for this to have been discussed during the Conclave and in an image conscious age one of the things Cardinal-electors would have been concerned about a new Pope's ability to project a positive image.

'Spin' is a fact of life, being thought well of is in many ways a Christian virtue. Cardinal Hume used tell his novices when Abbot of Ampleforth, 'The Community is commanded by Christ to love you, you therefore have a duty to make yourselves lovable', as with novice monks, so with Popes. Building up support for himself within his diocese and Italy is a wise and prudent thing to do, and for Pope Francis doing the things Italians love, kissing every baby, hugging every granny obviously comes easily. The large black camera that has appeared on the back of the Popemobile ensures that every kiss every embrace is seen by thousands. Popes should be seen as lovable. Being the son of Italian parents is almost as good as actually being Italian and probably the best Italians can hope for in any future Pope and is certainly not a hindrance to filling St Peter's Piazza.

Certainly Francis' message is simple: show mercy and humility, love the poor, be good, don't gossip etc. it is a message even a cynical journalist can understand without it needing to be interpreted, he says the things one might expect any parish priest to say. In a culture where it is quite possible to be a good Catholic and anti-clerical, the slightly subversive Pope plays well, complaining about priest's cars and wanting to fight against Vatican corruption plays well.

The press are always going to do the 'compare and contrast' bit between Francis and Benedict, it is natural and it is also obviously a concern for those inside the Vatican. To some the comparison is disconcerting, it highlights shifting sands, to others to others it is a source of hope or more likely wishful thinking but behind the obvious public image of Francis there is something quite enigmatic, we see him through the media which having been given a certain lead then builds up its own momentum. The reason for expressing these thoughts is that a couple of days ago El Pais came out with the headline: Pope Francis contemplates appointing a female cardinal which has as much substance behind it as so many other speculative pieces about the Pope or his plans for the future but it is emblematic of many of the headlines that appear in the popular media.

As far as Francis' plans for the future are concerned, we know he wants to reform the way in which the Curia operates, we know he wants the Church to be more concerned about mission, there is little more that we know. The amazing thing is that six months into his Papacy for most of us he is still enigmatic, one day saying we say too much about abortion, the next day addressing that very issue, or another talking about freedom from laws, the next excommunicating an unrepentant dissident. For me Francis remains a disconcerting enigma, the problem is separating the spin from the reality.

He cannot change dogma, he can change its expression and presentation, the more he is presented as being likely to change fundamentals of discipline and the way in which ordinary Christian live their faith, the more disconcerting he becomes. The more the media present him as subversive, the sooner he will be forced to show himself as the stable Rock on which the Church is built. A Pope can't base his Papacy on subversion, we know from scripture what happened to house built on sand.

I would put forward one speculation of my own, perhaps in the reform of the Curia Francis himself doesn't yet quite know what he can do, beyond a few small steps and if I am right in my suggestion that he was elected by the Curia's block vote, he doesn't know himself what the Curia will allow him to do either, they of course are the real masters of spin, and illusion too!


Consalvi said...

Historically, the Church's hierarchy has a role in acting as a barrier to the forces of change.

Critics characterise this attitude as dogmatic and unresponsive to traditionalism, but its roots lie deep within the understanding of itself.

The Catholic Church is apostolic, meaning that it exists as the direct and inevitable consequence of God's intention for mankind, as communicated by Christ to the apostles, and thence to the clergy in later generations.

Jonathan Riley-Smith, Dixie Professor of Ecclesiastical History at the University of Cambridge, argues that "a reluctance to change too much too fast can be justified as sound stewardship of divine dispensation".

However, in the second half of the eleventh century, the forces for change included elements within the Church's hierarchy.

What Pope Francis is suggesting (more of a change of tone) pales into insignificance compared to what became known as the Gregorian Reforms.

Pope Gregory VII (1073-85) initiated reforms which operated on two complementary levels.

Firstly, he addressed aspects of the Church's conduct: the morality and the sexuality of the clergy; clerics' educational attainment, and their competence in discharging their sacramental, liturgical and pastoral duties; as well as lay interference in the running of churches and in the appointments to ecclesiastical office.

Secondly, he sought to harmonise activity at local, regional and central levels.

Without these organisational reforms there could be no consistency in the Church's operation.

Next year (not yet confirmed) we will be rejoicing with millions of Catholics worldwide at the canonisation of one of the greatest popes, Blessed John Paul. However, under his watch, the Vatican bank was a metaphor for what was wrong with the institutional Church. Pope Francis has turned his gaze on this open sore.

Let us pray that he has the strength of Gregory VII.

Jeremiah Methuselah said...

Father Blake, you express cogently what many of us are experiencing. Please don't stop !

PseudonymousposterJohn said...


Just come to your blog because of the Rad Trad's. Thank-you for what you write and the best of luck in your 'little local difficulties'. Better not repeat my opinion of local newspapers.
These comments were written last night and are not a response to the above comment. It is mainly a response to several things said on the blog in the last few days.

1. The media seems to find no fault [so far] - that does the Church's fame some good. But
there did seem to be an semi-orchestrated /disorganized visceral journalistic attack on the Church in Benedict's time over child abuse. Funny how that has gone quiet. The sum of reports of crime and presumably the exact truth of their commission known to God as Absolute Justice, was the same before Francis as after his election, yet the instances of media reporting seem to have grown fewer.

2. His talk of reaching out must be presumed genuine.

3. But it must be reaching out with the truth of the faith.

4. Reports of his frustration of the Usus Ant. in his former diocese are disturbing - in substance and for what it leads one to conclude about his attitude to rules he doesn't like. How would a pope deal with that?

- Vernacular NO masses are licit and probably enjoyed by many [making no assumptions as to proportion]. Before going on to claim extraordinary powers of divination about Fr R B's motives and future intentions, the mexican poster 'Jorge' claims people need to hear mass in a language they understand, especially if their vernacular is not Romance or Indo-European. Probably so, but there is no problem, is there? There is no attempt to take this away from them , and the Latin mass can only spread if requested by the people. So if it did replace the local vernaculars, it would be by demand of the faithful. Seems unlikely.
The best the reform of the reform ever promised was a more reverent, less self-indulgent style of celebration, and perhaps lead to a text rewrite that might at best, what? - eliminate the bizarre 'table blessing' things 'Benedictus in aeternum', and replace the long form Our Father with the traditional doxology? No one is saying it cannot be vernacular. Well, I'm not.

I would just like to be assured that the favour is returned.

Can you argue there must only be one mass? Either out of Ultramontanism, or on the legal /abrogation or not, argument?
There is more than one form of mass rite - even in Italy, let alone the Eastern ones. There are still the Mozarabic and a few other rites, mostly monastic.
And you may say the Sarum 'Rite' was only a 'use' of the Roman, but that confirms the point. In pre-Ultramontane days, there were plenty of different variations in the standard Roman MAss.
So can there be a comfortably wide space for the older rite?
The people interested in stopping old-style LAtin masses can only have authoritarian tendencies and seeking to impose their personal tastes on others. I'm not insisting a hundred flowers bloom. Just two.

So is the present pope straining at the leash to abolish the motu proprio?

He'd be a much bigger fool than I take him for if he tried. The trads have somewhere to go, and if individuals haven't, they now have the map to find their own way.
I do think the SSPX kept pressure on an overly centralized Church.
Whether he liked it or not, Abp Lf was an anti-ultramontane.
SSPX AND Papa ImbrogIio UNITED against Ultramontanism. Yay, diversity!

There remain the problems of lack of lay formation in schools and a serious teaching about morality and consequences, as described by several commenters in past posts. Maybe it will come with time. And maybe it won't.

PseudonymousposterJohn said...

IS he just a sentimental old slum priest wishing everything could be like back in the favellas where everyone was poor and so it was simple? What would be the problem with that? Simply that he didn't really have a plan and it's all just warmed over sixties sentimentality.

Could be. IF that were so, the next pontiff would have some fall-out to deal with.

So far, this has not proved to be the case.

Francis is reminding me of the old-style anglican 'evangelical' [as they named themselves, forgetting John 6. 51, as always] leaders, espcially Donald Coggan or perhaps more recently George Carey. Probably, English-speaking readers will have an idea about what I refer to. Not all of them, English-speaking or not, will know all the details.

'Evangelicals' always failed [to put on any numbers or appeal to large groups of outsiders] in the Anglican provincial or even simply diocesan roles because they were told, probably by the centre, either superiors or staffers, that they must not upset the liberals and the high church 'Anglo-catholics'. The result was that their core strength, which was making emotionally charged appeals to one congregation based on a certain use of Scripture, was neutralized from day one, and there was no point to them. (So far Mr Webley is just the same. HE has a go at a famous financial product and a certain purveyor of it, and the result is, the practice is not banned, and the company fights back sounding rather surer of its ground than he did. HE tries a populist moral tactic and its simple neutral lack of result leads to his reputation's diminishing. Largely, this doesn't matter to the Christian Church because he really IS a schismatic [I think of past posts on the SSPX] and part of the Pontiff's job is to preach the Gospel to him.

Ecumenism is a problem legacy that Montini left us with. I said elsewhere and some or many may well think this controversial, all Vat ii is, was an attempt to simplify the Church so much that the protestant bodies of a war-torn europe would want in. That's all I have. I came to that conclusion a few months ago and can't do better yet. In many ways, even Papa Imbro is more complicated than probably Montini was planning for, so that era is over. Consecrating the world to Our Lady doesn't sould terribly presbyterian. I hope I'm not wrong and this is merely some Cameron-style tactic, like that stunt of promising to leave one euro-party grouping for another one still within Europe. He did what he said. He never said 'leave'. He couldn't help what you assumed by it).

I bring this up because doctrinally, it appears, Francis is not at variance with any part of the beliefs of his people, the faithful.
His 'populism' or popularism, if you will, cannot be based on a narrow, tradition- and magisterium-rejecting use of Scripture alone, because he is a Catholic. If his actions are 'evangelical', that will be in a real way that means he preaches the whole Gospel.
So his use of this method is not pre-doomed.
Having been brought up as an anglican, I should be fascinated to find the 'evangelical'-style approach works in and because of, the fullness of the catholic faith.

PseudonymousposterJohn said...

3rd and Last:
I am not suggesting the Pope is either a protestant or a heretic, btw.
I understand the worship of the Coptic Church looks like a pentecostalist or charismatic meeting in most cases. That is probably the inevitable effect of the coca-colonialism of Hollywood, etc.

I would agree with the commenter in the relevant section I read a few days ago who said a love of Mozart and appreciation of high art are not necessarily signs of faith or even morality. But I think your point was it showed a man who was not a fool and demonstrated a depth of personality and and an ability in serious consideration of all matters, and I agree with that.

To speak entirely personally, I can live with Mozart and plaincant, and if need be amplified heavy rock.
I found after being too sick to venture out to Latin mass over a weekend that I appreciated it more after a fortnight. It was like a revelation.
I could live with one week Latin and another vernacular. That result can be had anyway simply by attending mass in more than one place that some may be forced into anyway. But it might be self-indulgent if done deliberately, I suppose.

I suppose the question comes when one considers an absolute moral and doctrinal structure - is that beter displayed, maintained and propagated by a more solid and less let it all hang out/ d i y liturgy?

Just some thoughts, not really complete.

GOR said...

I agree about the media’s negative and unworthy depiction of Pope Benedict upon his election and throughout his pontificate. From people who had really met and knew him as a Cardinal, he was anything but the ogre the media made him out to be. They always depicted him as quiet, humble, unassuming and courteous.

While this may have played into Pope Francis’ initial months, I really doubt that he has given much thought to his ‘image’. It strikes me that he is just being himself - but somewhat transformed by his office. People who knew him in Argentina say he was humble, shy, serious and avoided the limelight. Some have noted that he smiles much more now than before. Having tens of thousands of people cheering you can do that!

What actually happened in the Conclave we don’t really know and anything we say is speculation. My speculation is that a number of Italian Cardinals – whether in the Curia or outside – opted for him in an ‘anti-Scola’ move. They didn’t want Scola and a ‘half-Italian’ was better than no Italian at all.

As to the pace of reform, I suspect his mantra might be festina lente

Supertradmum said...

When Francis was first elected, I wrote on my blog that a New World pope would cause some problems for all of us. I was crucified verbally. The fact is that this good man is not an insider. To understand European cardinals and all the machinations of the Vatican takes some doing. The other huge fact is that he cannot stay naive. Naivete is not a virtue.

That Francis has not moved into the Vatican papal rooms is a huge sign of a problem for me. Of course, I am a mom, and if I had my son at home and he did not want to be in his rooms, one would have to ask why.

To say he wants community indicates that he has not accepted the loneliness of being at the top.

New World sensibilities are not European ones. As an American who is probably more European than American, I could list many characteristics of division. However, it is a reality.

Also, I have had many friends who were priests in the seminaries at the same time as this pope, who is that much younger than the previous two to be in a different generation of priests.

He would not have had the same education as previous popes. May I add that my priest friend his age and a bit older in America told me point blank two important points.

One, they entered the seminary to change the Church and this was years, like thirteen years before Vat II. Why?

They wanted to reach out to the Protestants because of the fear of the tyrannies of communism and fascism, thinking that only a united Christian bloc could combat atheism. So, they wanted to Protestize the Mass and dumb down doctrine in order to gain that goal.

At the same time, Thomism was being thrown out for the German revisionist theologians, again those wanting ecumenism,and more and more seminarians were being taught Barth, Tillich, Niebuhr, Moltmann an others. I know, because some of this lasted into theology and philosophy when I was studying between 1967-1971 for my undergraduate degrees in phil and theo.

So, we are getting new pope with a different background. God the Holy Spirit chose him for a reason and we need to be clear on all points.

nickbris said...

It seems that His Holiness can't do a thing right,and when he does it's round the wrong way.Just like me when I was a Boy Seaman on the Queen Mary.

Sadie Vacantist said...

The only issue for this papacy is that the thwarting of war in Syria might lead to an intellectual attack on the neo-cons. Francis' approach is based on the assumption that neo-con power from their base in the USA is insurmountable so we might as well all volunteer in our local soup kitchens as opposition is hopeless. If the neo-cons are now challenged or at least reassessed where does this leave the Holy Father's strategy?

Fr Ray Blake said...

He's doing an awful lot that is right.
The problem is that whatever he does has ramifications, and what I am saying here is that we hear and see him through the lens of the secular media.

Fr Ray Blake said...

I would not be at all surprised if Benedict advised against the Papal apartments.
If you have ever been to them, you have to pass through a whole gallery of offices first, floor by floor, so everyone knows who is going to see the Pope and speculate why, if they haven't already asked.

Privacy of any kind is impossible, everything is scrutinised.

Supertradmum said...

Interesting comment, Fr. Blake. Being a private person myself, I can identify with that. But, is it not symbolic?

Fr Ray Blake said...

Same could be said about the move from the old apartments of Pope Leo to the new, or from the Lateran to the Quirinale. Popes move and decide on new appartments which suit their tastes.

I would be more concerned about who chooses those who now stay at Sta Marta.

JARay said...

Some very interesting comments here.
I can see why refusing to use the Papal apartments makes a lot of sense. I find it amusing that the Cardinals think about the next Conclave after finishing with one. I'm sure it is true. It also explains the speed of Francis's election.

Nicolas Bellord said...

Father, you said: " we hear and see him through the lens of the secular media." Well I do not and have studiously avoided reading about Pope Francis in the media, even in Catholic papers. Instead I read reports of what he actually says and does and I simply do not seem to have the problems with him that others seem to have.

One of our problems is that we tend to think that every utterance of a Pope is infallible and contains the complete truth. It does not! I think we need to relax. I like his insertion of a mention of St Joseph into the Mass and I think his day of prayer for Syria seems to be producing real dividends.

John Nolan said...

Consalvi draws attention to Pope St Gregory VII. Yet he was just one of a line of reforming popes. St Leo IX reigned for only five years (1049-1054) and to him must go the credit for transforming the papacy "from the prime example of corruption into the chief instrument of reform" (Eamon Duffy).

Then, as now, reform meant enforcing orthodox doctrine, retifying abuses, and strengthening the Roman Curia by appointing men of outstanding ability, recruited from all over Europe. Leo also travelled to Germany, France and Northern Italy, holding a series of great reforming synods. Corrupt and unorthodox bishops were excommunicated and deposed.

Yet those who talk about reform nowadays want the Curia to be rendered ineffectual, heterodoxy to be encouraged, and the Church to conform to a secular morality based on more or less unbridled hedonism.

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