papal sealUnder Pope Benedict XVI, the ideological stance of the papacy was “no enemies to the right.” There was the preferential option for Opus Dei and the Legion of Christ, the outreach to the St. Pius X Society, the kowtowing to traditionalists via the revival of the Latin Mass and the encouragement of old devotions, the appointment of hard-line bishops and the pumping up of their magisterial authority.

Of course, the right was less than satisfied.  Benedict did not prove to be quite the hammer of the left that he’d been as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). The return to liturgical tradition, symbolized by the return of episcopal lace and trains, amounted to less than met the eye. Pro-choice politicians weren’t barred from the Eucharist. And at least in official pronouncements, there was little backing away from longstanding Catholic concerns for social justice and welfare, little growth in enthusiasm for the magic of the capitalist market.

Still, traditionalist Catholics never doubted that Benedict was one of them. Pope Francis, it’s now clear, is not.

It’s not just that he’s living up to his namesake in simplicity of dress, modesty of living arrangements, and true devotion to the poor. It’s that he has shown, in his supposedly offhand remarks, that he sees threats to the Church on the right as well as on the left. Last week, at an audience with the leaders of religious orders from Latin America and the Caribbean, he suggested that they not be “bothered” by getting some criticism from the CDF:

They will make mistakes, they will make a blunder [meter la pata], this will pass! Perhaps even a letter of the Congregation for the Doctrine (of the Faith) will arrive for you, telling you that you said such or such thing… But do not worry. Explain whatever you have to explain, but move forward… Open the doors, do something there where life calls for it. I would rather have a Church that makes mistakes for doing something than one that gets sick for being closed up…

He then proceeded to share two of his worries, one about Pelagian types eager to restore the pre-Vatican II ancien regime, the other about Gnostic types attracted to pantheism: “The gospel is not the old rule, nor this Pantheism. If you look at the periphery; the destitute… the drug addicts! The traffic of people… This is the gospel. The poor are the gospel…”

No wonder that the conservative folks over at Rorate Caeli are outraged, that Catholic ex-patriot Rod Dreher is scandalized. Francis is calling the traditionalists’ whole restorationist agenda into question. The poor are the gospel, not rosaries and letters from the CDF. The image of a smaller, purist Church is not Francis’.

And so the regime of the conservatives begins to totter. Consider their coordinated assault on the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, as detailed in a new report by John Gehring of Faith in Public Life. With false accusations and guilt by association, bishops around the country have been persuaded to stop CCHD’s funding of and participation in coalitions dedicated to helping the poor.

The message from the pope is for those dedicated to helping the poor to keep moving forward. Avanti!

Categories: Beliefs

Mark Silk

Mark Silk

Mark Silk is Professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College and director of the college's Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life. He is a Contributing Editor of the Religion News Service

16 Comments

  1. Brian Finnerty

    Pope Francis is neither conservative nor liberal but simply someone who is living and preaching the Gospel.

    FYI, a couple of days ago, Pope Francis had gave a private audience to the Prelate of Opus Dei. See http://www.opusdei.us/art.php?p=53773

  2. Traditionalist don’t have a restoration agenda…they have a word made flesh agenda. And that is the problem with liberalism and the gnosticism that the pope was referring to. they can never accept that the word was made flesh. that it has come among us. that we must act responsibly. liberalism only know entitlement. it claims human beings do not have an innate dignity other than to be their own god. each person is entitled to define right and wrong. entitled to define who is and isn’t alive. entitled to define marriage. entitled to food without work.

    • S. Kevin Wojtaszek

      What you don’t understand about this “Gnostic” is that I see the word made flesh all around me, in the poor, in the sick, in those imprisoned, and most of all in Nature.tje Cosmic Christ is everywhere. Also, just as in the political sphere, what traditionalists call entitlements, I would prefer to call earned benefits, or if you will, Grace.

  3. For your information Mark, Pope Francis says 3 rosaries a day and said he has done so since he first heard that it was the custom of Pope John Paul II. Holy people can’t be pigeonholed like you are trying to do.

  4. I agree with Tony. To really understand what is going on, read Fr Luigi Villa’s
    books. He was told by Padra Pio that he was to take up the fight against the Freemasons in the Vatican. He valiantly fought them to the end.

  5. Mr. Silk, I think your presentation of Catholic attitudes rather lamentable at best, downright scandalous at worst. Pope Francis may not be firmly insistent upon restoring all things traditional, but neither was Pope Benedict before him. Catholic faith is not now, and never has been, a political effort.

    Pope Francis, Pope Benedict, and Pope John Paul II WERE all about aiding the Church to reach out to all the souls in the world as well as could be done.

    Our current Holy Father intends to help people understand our Church more effectively, not browbeat them with a political whipping stick.

    • mortimer zilch

      Yes, John, I think you are quite right in how you characterize Mr. Silk’s analysis. Christ stood AMIDST the Pharisees, Sadducees, Romans, and Revolutionaries, and wasn’t any of them. Perhaps Ratzinger did appear to move to the left a tad once he became Pope. Perhaps Pope Francis can’t QUITE be confined to any category either. Certainly the left-right/conservative-liberal dichotmies cannot even be tailored to fit this guy. A clear look at Francis reveals a completely pastoral man, willing to take anybody on board who WANTS to come onboard, and THEN try to find a chair for them. Theology and Politics be damned. Jesus only! Now that’s what I call radical activism!

  6. Gloria Burns Enoch, Ofs

    The Poor are the gospel. Attention to the poor and marginalized is exactly what Catholics should be concentrating on. We should all be IN SERVICE to those who need help. Those who think otherwise have always been wrong, now we will all be able to comment on it more profusely I guess. I like what the Pope has been saying and look forward to ACTION/PRACTICE

    • Gloria, so far as I’m aware, concentrating on the poor and the marginalized is what most serious Catholics have always done. ..With rosaries and other devotions in their hands and on their hearts.

      Mr. Silk’s statements seem to declare that the Church shouldn’t be anything more than a simple social services organization, bent on providing for spiritual needs only according to the latest whim.

      I think he’s very gravely mistaken.
      I don’t think Pope Francis had made any such proposals.

  7. While reading Mr. Silk’s poor interpretation of events , I began to think: “this commentary is dreadful, I wonder to which generation Mr. Silk belongs”. I then saw his picture to the side of the screen and said to myself, “Ah, just as expected, another aging hippie bemoaning the slow but sure expansion of tradition.”

  8. How can the church’s message be about the poor? Today’s poor are about as well materially as the rich were 2000 years ago. Obviously poverty is not a virtue nor a condemnation.
    The church is about encouraging the salvation of souls through the object of worship of God to bring Grace to the world. The Pope should spend his time purifying worship. Purify the priesthood and create the conditions by which people will be able to save their souls making the sacrifices necessary to live the Christian life in todays cesspool of a world.

    • Magy Stelling

      Rod, the poor I know in the United State are not rich. I wonder where you live and how often you are personally in touch with the poor and have actually sat for even a few moments and listened to one, To see the suffering Jesus in the human dignity of the poor. Surely you would reach out to the Suffering Jesus if He were on earth today. Well this is what Pope Francis is saying, “reach out to the poor, find the suffering Jesus in that human being and do unto him/her as you would to me.”
      Our salvation was given to each of us (rich and/or poor) by Jesus, our Church is a vehicle to use in living out this magnanimous gift of salvation.

      • Mary,
        How are you defining “rich”? Rod’s point, as I read it, did not proclaim that impoverished people today have an easy life. Rather, he highlighted the idea that today’s poor frequently have almost as much in material goods as the average “rich” person of years gone by.
        Whether we willingly admit it or not, our society has become quite “soft”, quite “entitled”. Because we exist, we think we should be comfortable.

        I don’t think Pope Francis asked us to address material wealth in the manner that many think. I suspect he’s trying to challenge us to quit being greedy, especially in the more subtle ways that greed can strike.

  9. Francis has breathed new life into what had become stagnant, you cannot deny the energy and hope this simple man of God brings, he is opening thee doors and letting them in, Benedict was turning us into a living museum.

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