At first, we got denial. Theocon Matthew Schmitz at First Things even tried to argue that there is no difference between the vestments of the Liberace pope and his modest successor. A Vatican source relayed to me, in contrast, the words that Francis spoke as he was presented with Benedict’s wardrobe before going out for the first time on the balcony of St Peter’s: “Il carnevale è finito.” Then there was the attempt to argue that because Francis excommunicated a rogue Australian priest for violating the eucharist, heresy and misrepresenting the faith, he is no different than Benedict! You can read the details here. Money quote:
The letter, a copy of which NCR obtained and translated, accuses Reynolds of heresy (Canon 751) and determined he incurred latae sententiae excommunication for throwing away the consecrated host or retaining it “for a sacrilegious purpose” (Canon 1367). It also referenced Canon 1369 (speaking publicly against church teaching) in its review of the case.
I don’t know anyone who believed that Francis had just junked canon law, or had somehow come to believe that violating the Eucharist was something the Church should ever tolerate. I have never written or believed that. What I have written is that it is impossible to read the America interview without seeing it as a blunt repudiation of the last thirty reactionary, legalistic, and failed years of the church hierarchy.
And after the initial denial, some theocons are adjusting. Their adjustment is a form of revolt. In a splenetic tirade against today’s Jesuits, George Neumayr argues that Francis must be corrected:
For the good of the faith, laity, clergy, bishops, and particularly powerful cardinals should start playing Paul to Francis’s Peter, as his culturally conditioned liberalism threatens to undermine the unity and orthodoxy of the faith.
Peter snapped out of his pandering phase; let’s hope Francis does the same. Even if given the most charitable reading, Pope Francis’s recent interview with Jesuit publications was alarming in its spirit-of-Vatican II liberalism … It is not petty, disrespectful, or un-Catholic to object to the liberal parts of his agenda. Indeed, the need for a St. Paul to correct him grows with each passing week as his pontificate emboldens the Church’s enemies and undercuts her friends and most loyal members.
Bingo! The reactionaries determined to fuse Catholicism with the Republican right are rightly rattled. But note the pivot. They were only recently the relentless advocates of total obedience to papal authority. Now they’re calling for a mutiny among “laity, clergy, bishops, and particularly powerful cardinals” against the Pope. Well, at least their denial is wearing off, I suppose.
(Photo: Pope Francis greets sick people as he arrives at the Marian Shrine of Bonaria on September 22, 2013 in Cagliari, Italy. By Vatican Pool/Getty.)