by John Paul Shimek 06/30/2016
Last weekend, Ines San Martin of Crux reported that Pope Francis “has vowed in a new interview that he won’t be slowed down by resistance from ‘ultra-conservatives’ in the Church who ‘say no to everything,’ insisting, ‘I’m going ahead without looking over my shoulder.’”
Good Catholics everywhere cheered the words of the Holy Father, the Successor of St. Peter.
You see, they readily understood that a handful of far-right ideologues do not get to determine the course of Christ’s Church. It doesn’t matter if those ideologues represent semi-schismatic enclaves or write popular blogs. Christ the Lord has empowered the Church’s Magisterium in communion with the Successor of St. Peter to lead the People of God. Not them.
Nonetheless, sometimes it can be instructive to read these far-right ideologues. Doing so, reveals some things worth noting about the signs of the times; and, taking stock of those things, helps us to perform better the work of the New Evangelization.
Just what do these blogs reveal?
At first brush, it would seem that there has been a shift in the tectonic plates. At the beginning of the pontificate of Pope Francis, only a small minority of ‘radical traditionalists’ teetering on the edge of schism opposed the man ‘from the ends of the earth.’ Middle-of-the-road ‘conservative Catholic’ types withheld judgment about him, biding their time as he got to know his new flock. Since then, the climate has changed and the sands have shifted.
As a variety of far-right or ultra-conservative Catholic writers make clear, now the ‘in thing’ among their number seems to be to ‘distrust and vilify’ the Pope, not to ‘trust and verify’ him. Thus, far-right Catholic writers get their Catholic ‘street cred’ by maligning the Pope as a chief plotter against the faith.
T hat this is their modus operandi becomes clear after a moment’s inspection of the kind of blogs where they tend to gather on-line. They never seek to read the pontificate of Pope Francis through the lens of charity. Their first instinct is to punch first.
Thus, they eschew charity and ecclesial union, preferring division and animosity. That does not bespeak a Catholic ethos.
This surfaces a second point: The far-right has radicalized. A small number of blogs have sent a direct signal to no doubt well-meaning ‘conservative Catholics’ that it is now open season on Francis. In effect, these blogs have allowed themselves to become little more than sleeper cells of ‘ultra-conservative Catholic’ ideologues, sounding the alarm to arise and take up arms in a bitter civil war where victories are won only by way of resisting the Pope.
Scripture tells us that we will know Christians by their fruits. Yet so often the fruit of reading the blogs of far-right and ultra-conservatives Catholics is anger, not peace, sadness, not joy, and ecclesial division, not unity in Christ’s Spirit. Aren’t these the marks of the Evil One? Certainly, they’re not the traits of spiritually mature Catholics.
Thirdly, all this effectively means their program of radicalization is carried out in an extra-ecclesial context. On the frontlines of this new battle for the soul of Catholicism, self-appointed gate-keepers of Catholic orthodoxy fill the ether in concerted attempts to marginalize the voice of the Church’s duly appointed pastors. Lacking episcopal consecration and any claim to Apostolic succession, they constitute among themselves a sort of ‘parallel magisterium’ that determines for itself the prerogatives of the Pope, the content of authentic Catholic teaching, and the future direction of the Church’s pastoral ministry.
None of that is Catholic. But it might well be deeply Congregationalist.
Of course, they carry on their war against the ‘Francis Revolution’ while claiming to launch their missives from the secure tactical ground of established Magisterial teaching. But, ironically, they balk if you point out that they lack the credentials, rank, and profile to command their territory.
Cherry-picking the bishops to whom they adhere, and dividing the Church into political parties, they profess a libertarian ecclesiology that selectively adheres to the Church’s authority when it serves their spiritual preferences. Thus, far-right Catholic agitators entirely side-step serious theological questions about the nature of Catholic tradition, the definition of heresy, the extent of the Church’s canon law, the balance between doctrine and pastoral practice, the prerogatives of the pope, the meaningfulness of ecclesial communion, and the need for continental and lay consultation, opting instead for simplistic political drama.
Instead, they deal in innuendos, slander, and calumny. Those are their trademarks, not respect for the hierarchy of the Church and reverence for the truth.
And so, the fourth point: With their radicalization and de-ecclesialization comes their de-rationalization. They eschew the heavy-lifting of theology in preference for the sensationalism of political theater that finds no place for the common dialogue of parrhesia. Against any kind of synodality characterized by mutual listening, the discernment of spirits, or pastoral accompaniment, they opt for something Pope Francis has termed ‘declarationist nominalism’ – a form of political resistance theater to the ‘culture of encounter’ by way of a monologue in the form of one-dimensional pious platitudes.
When Pope Francis calls for a synodal Church that leaves no one outside the warm embrace of mercy, they envision a new Siege of Masada. They take on the guise of militants, perceiving themselves as the last defenders of Catholicism. Yet their war cries and battle slogans leave them sounding like un-catechized Catholics in great danger of slipping into Protestant forms of thinking.
Let us pray for them even as we continue to pray for His Holiness Pope Francis as he pursues the course the Holy Spirit reveals to him.