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Home/Rod Dreher/Pope Francis Scolds ‘Rigid’ Sinners

Pope Francis Scolds ‘Rigid’ Sinners

Pope Francis in Slovakia (Vatican News)

Oh boy, Pope Francis produced a wealth of quotable lines in his recent meeting with Slovak Jesuits. The entire exchange is here, in La Civiltà Cattolica. Excerpts:

One of those present begins by saying: “I am two years younger than you” and the pope replies jokingly: “… but you don’t look it! You’re wearing makeup!” The others laugh. He continues: “In 1968 I entered the Society of Jesus as a refugee. I was a member of the Swiss Province for 48 years, and have now been here for 5 years. I have lived in very different Churches. Today I see that many people want to go back or seek certainties in the past. Under communism I experienced pastoral creativity. Some even said that a Jesuit could not be formed during communism, but others disagreed and we are here. What vision of Church can we follow?”

You said something very important, which identifies the suffering of the Church at this moment: the temptation to go backward. We are suffering this today in the Church: the ideology of going backward. It is an ideology that colonizes minds. It is a form of ideological colonization. It is not really a universal problem, but rather specific to the churches of certain countries. Life scares us. I’ll repeat something I said to the ecumenical group I met here before you: freedom scares us. In a world that is so conditioned by addictions and virtual experiences it frightens us to be free. In the previous meeting I took Dostoevsky’s The Great Inquisitor as an example. He finds Jesus and says to him: “Why did you give us freedom? It is dangerous!” The inquisitor reproaches Jesus for having given us freedom: a bit of bread would have been enough and nothing more.

That is why today we look back to the past: to seek security. It frightens us to celebrate before the people of God who look us in the face and tell us the truth. It frightens us to go forward in pastoral experiences. I think of the work that was done – Father Spadaro was present – at the Synod on the Family to make it understood that couples in second unions are not already condemned to hell. It frightens us to accompany people with sexual diversity. We are afraid of the crossroads and paths that Paul VI spoke of. This is the evil of this moment, namely, to seek the path in rigidity and clericalism, which are two perversions.

“The ideology of going backward”? What world is he talking about? Are you aware that the Catholic Church has been “rigid” at any point over the last 50 years? Most of the people I know who seek out the Latin mass are not looking for rigidity; they are looking for backbone. And if anything, they are trying to escape the clericalism of priests who treat liturgical worship as theirs to modify, and to inhabit as a performer.

Anyway, the condescension and arrogance of his characterizing those who disagree with him as cowards who fear the glorious future Francis and his cohorts promise. That the people within the Church who find the progressive LGBT outreach of Francis’s agent Father James Martin to be theologically problematic are nothing but homophobes. A lot of the Catholics I know have spent a lifetime listening to clerics like Pope Francis promise that the great postconciliar renewal, the springtime of the Church, was just around the corner. They can’t be fooled again.

It’s just not true that the Catholic collapse in the wake of Vatican II is entirely the fault of Vatican II. The West experienced radical secularization starting in the 1960s. The point is that whatever the conciliar fathers hoped for did not pan out, and some Catholics are desperate for a liturgy and an ethos in which they find strength. But Francis doesn’t want them to have it. I’m an outsider, but this is unfathomable to me. How are these people the problem? How?

About his decision to severely limit once again the availability of the Tridentine (Latin) mass, the Pope said:

Now I hope that with the decision to stop the automatism of the ancient rite we can return to the true intentions of Benedict XVI and John Paul II. My decision is the result of a consultation with all the bishops of the world made last year. From now on those who want to celebrate with the vetus ordo must ask permission from as is done with biritualism. But there are young people who after a month of ordination go to the bishop to ask for it. This is a phenomenon that indicates that we are going backward.

A cardinal told me that two newly ordained priests came to him asking him for permission to study Latin so as to celebrate well. With a sense of humor he replied: “But there are many Hispanics in the diocese! Study Spanish to be able to preach. Then, when you have studied Spanish, come back to me and I’ll tell you how many Vietnamese there are in the diocese, and I’ll ask you to study Vietnamese. Then, when you have learned Vietnamese, I will give you permission to study Latin.” So he made them “land,” he made them return to earth. I go ahead, not because I want to start a revolution. I do what I feel I must do. It takes a lot of patience, prayer and a lot of charity.

The “true intentions of Benedict XVI and John Paul II”! That’s chutzpah. And saying that he is the one showing patience, prayer, and charity — wow. Did you ever think you would see the day when a Pope discouraged priests from studying what was the language of the Church from antiquity until maybe fifty years ago? Progress! they call it. Father Zuhlsdorf, reflecting on the Pope’s words, said, “This is the world turned inside out and upside down, colors inversed, polarities shifted.”

Let the reader understand.

Francis also denounced EWTN (though not by name) as doing “the work of the devil.” It is known that the conservative Catholic satellite channel is not Francis’s favorite, but it’s interesting how progressive Catholic outlets like National Catholic Reporter can do things like publish an account by a Catholic divinity student about how great it was to go to a Hindu temple and worship Ganesha — and the Pope doesn’t care. Granted, I don’t expect the Roman pontiff to know about columns published by American progressive Catholic newspapers. But then, if he’s going to call out EWTN for its supposedly satanic excesses, he ought to at least have a word or two to say about Catholic newspapers that promote Catholics worshiping false gods.

I know, I know. I know. None of this is new from Francis, of course, but it felt particularly weird hearing it in the same week that we found out that the Catholic Archbishop of Moncton, in Canada, has said that only those Catholics over the age of 12 who can prove vaccination will be allowed to come to mass, or to participate in any other part of the Church’s communal life. As you know, I’m not an anti-vaxxer, but forbidding people from the life of the church, most important of all the Eucharist, unless they can prove vaccination shocks the conscience. Is this church that Francis wants to build going to have the strength to resist governmental oppression?

Despite the accusation that EWTN does the devil’s work, I want to recommend to you this interview that Edward Pentin, Vatican correspondent for the EWTN-owned National Catholic Register, did with me recently in Rome. I draw your attention specifically to this part:

Whom did you speak to for the book, and how did you find them?

I dedicated the book to the memory of Father Tomislav Kolakovic, I had never heard of until I went to Bratislava, and I was just so amazed by his story. [When he fled] to Slovakia in ’43, he told his students, “The good news is the Germans are going to lose this war; the bad news is the Soviets are going to be running this country when it’s over. The first thing they’re going to do is come after the Church, we have to be ready.”

He knew that, and could tell instantly, the very clericalist, passive Slovak Catholicism was going to be no match for what was coming. So, he began to prepare his students. He would bring together these groups of mostly students for prayer, and intense discussion and analysis of what was happening, and they would decide.

Within two years, a network of these groups had spread all over Slovakia, and they had some priests who were going along with them.

They became the backbone for the underground Church. So I realized we are in a Kolakovic moment now in the West. We have to take advantage of the liberty we have now, the liberty of time and religious freedom, such as it is, to prepare.

And to create networks?

Yes, prepare ourselves and our families and our parishes spiritually, but make these networks now across confessional boundaries, across national and international boundaries. Now is the time, it’s urgent.

Once again, let the reader understand. Let the reader also understand that he’s probably not going to get any help from the Vatican in the long struggle ahead.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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