I might be wrong in my reading of the situation in February 2013, but I think there was hope in some quarters of Catholicism that Pope Benedict was setting us up for a more heavy-handed expression of the Roman way at the top. To be sure, many conservative Catholics were displeased with the way 2005-2013 turned out, despite high hopes expressed in some quarters:
He’ll correct the lackadaisical attitudes that have been able to creep into the lives of Catholics. He’s going to have a German mentality of leadership: either get on the train or get off the track. He will not put up with rebellious children. (Rev. M. Price Oswalt, quoted here)
Jody Bottum, recent defector on same-sex unions, gave the last papacy a solid thumbs-down:
(Benedict XVI was) as bad as a pope has been for 200 years. … All in all, a terrible executive of the Vatican.
Today, one of the standard-bearers for conservative/traditional Catholicism frets over how the CDF head identifies “de facto schismatic” and “always orthodox.”
Might it be that the “unfinished” initiatives of 2005-2013 have simply failed a reasonable standard of discernment in a nearly-universal conservative hierarchy? Check the list: reunion with the SSPX, punishment of US women religious, rollback of liturgical reform, new translations. Forget about the heroic vision of John Paul II–casting nets into the deep. Maybe it wasn’t cabals, lobbies, and closet liberals. Maybe some initial ideas just lacked strength and verve and spirituality as the years rolled past.
I can understand that. When I was young, I thought I wanted to be a scientist. I went to college for it, and snickered at people who majored in “soft” disciplines like psychology or history or languages. My grades as a grad student taking those “soft” courses in theology were much higher. It only took me a decade to figure out where my calling was.
Today I see a spectrum of sorts:
- Catholics openly opposed to Pope Francis
- Catholics spinning Pope Francis to suit their interpretation
- Catholics genuinely on board with Pope Francis
- fanboys and fangirls giddy over Pope Francis
Perhaps the reason why the conservative and liberal labels fail so often (But I don’t believe them totally useless) is that people operate under covers other than politics, and that much of ideology is a relative thing.
A colleague in my diocese once remarked that our bishop (appointed in 1995, retired in 2013) went from a middle-of-the-road/somewhat conservative prelate to one of the most liberal in the US episcopacy by simply not changing. It was all the bishops appointed in those eighteen intervening years that “redefined” the man.
Unity is important to the Church, however. We profess “one” Church. How does that happen today?
I don’t have the answer on the unity front. I think Catholic unity is important. For the most part, when you’re talking choir members, car washes, and coffee after Mass, Catholics in a parish pull together and their ideological bent is fairly irrelevant. More and more, I’m convinced the internet expression of Catholicism is irrelevant. Justifying blogging is getting harder over the years, not easier.
That said, I still find it hard to resist poking at my sister and brother Catholics over what seem to be inconsistencies with their avowed “orthodoxy” and “faithfulness” and with what I see on their websites. Reading between the lines, I perceive a lot of hurting people. 2013 must sting.