Monday, November 18, 2013

Pope Francis and Traditionalist Roman Catholics

Pope Francis is a popular figure these days.  But while many are taken with Francis, there is one group of Roman Catholics that feels less than enthralled - traditionalists.  The New York Times published an article recently, entitled "Conservative U.S. Catholics Feel Left out of Pope's Embrace," that recounts the frustration some in the U.S. church have with Pope Francis' lack of focus on the primary 'culture war' issues - abortion, gay marriage, etc. - as well as frustration with what some called his "imprudent" and "naive" comments about homosexuality and atheism.

There's a traditionalist website that I look at every so often called Rorate Caeli where reaction to the pontiff has generally not been positive.  Rorate Caeli has raised concerns about the Pope's more informal way of speaking off-the-cuff, and particularly about the Pope's apparent unconcern with liturgical beauty, beauty that traditionalists hold dear.  Most of the site's criticisms of the Pope have been measured, but they have been direct.

While I am not a traditionalist, I do have a deep love of liturgy and am always moved by the beauty of the Tridentine mass.  I understand the emphasis my traditionalist brothers and sisters place on the transformative power of beautiful liturgy, and I get their frustration when others don't share their concerns, particularly when one of those others appears to be the Pope.

My sense is that few non-traditionalist Catholics really understand their traditionalist brothers and sisters.  When I take my students to a Tridentine mass on a field trip (which I do for my History of Christianity class), most experience this mass as foreign and boring, and are shocked when I tell them that there are a sizable group of people who very devoutly advocate for more widespread celebration of the mass in this way.  And I've heard other Catholics summarily dismiss traditionalists as backwards.

In my last blog post, I wrote about the necessity of not marginalizing those with opinions and ideas different than our own, arguing that we must take seriously Pope Francis' exhortation that "It is everybody's church!"  And Rorate Caeli yesterday published a post that shows Pope Francis once again demonstrating what acceptance of the other could look like.

Mario Palmaro, a traditionalist Italian Catholic who has been very critical of Pope Francis, received a phone call from Pope Francis on All Saints Day (November 1).  It would appear that Pope Francis called Palmaro because Palmaro is gravely ill, and the Pope wanted him to know of his love.  What is interesting to note is how Pope Francis responded to Palmaro when the latter brought up his criticism of the pontiff.  Palmaro said the following (taken from the Rorate Caeli website):
Pope Francis told me that he was very close to me, having learned of my health condition, of my grave illness, and I clearly noticed his deep empathy, the attention for a person as such, beyond ideas and opinions, while I live through a time of trial and suffering.
I was astonished, amazed, above all moved: for me, as a Catholic, that which I was experiencing was one of the most beautiful experiences in my life. But I felt the duty to remind the Pope that I, together with Gnocchi, had expressed specific criticisms regarding his work, while I renewed my total fidelity [to him] as a son of the Church. The Pope almost did not let me finish the sentence, saying that he had understood that those criticisms had been made with love, and how important it had been for him to receive them.  [These words] comforted me greatly.
The last part is worth repeating.  The Pope said "that he had understood that those criticisms had been made with love, and how important it had been for him to receive them."  I noted in my last blog post that it is a temptation to all of us to want to find ways to silence those whose political and/or theological opinions differ from our own, but that to succumb to this temptation is to marginalize others who have a rightful place in the church.  Pope Francis made it clear to Palmaro not only that he recognized that his criticisms were made in love, but that such criticism is essential within the church.  He made it clear, in other words, that whether we agree with each other or not, we each need to allow the other to have a voice.


  1. Sad to say Traditional Catholics are barely tolerated in the Church and this was a concern from the former Pope who wanted to help them in their Liturgical problems. Many well known Catholic media personalities call them mockingly Reactionaries but that is a uncharitable and un Christian term to use. They are faithful and they are sick of all of the abuses and novelties and innovations since Vatican II which by the way that Council did not even call for. They care about the deposit of Faith but sometimes they seem to be very hostile to non Catholics and non Christians. A error is one thing those who in it are another thing.

  2. Thank you, that was beautiful and grace filled report. My recently deceased but very orthodox Catholic Mother had a sense for perceiving holiness and found Pope Francis to be an exceptionally Holy priest.

    Thank you and God bless.

  3. I don't think that believing homosexuality and abortion are wrong is backwards. However, OBSESSING over them is. That is why I don't agree with Trads. I really do not care that much about the Tridentine Mass, however, I do agree that I will that Mass returns to how it was in the Middle Ages because it is beautiful. I'm simply sick and tired of the indie, no talent Christian rock singers that today's Catholic churches have.