instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Look in my eyes, what do you see?

Dale Price is writing a series of posts that I think is tremendously valuable in explaining -- with passion, but not hysteria -- the reservations a good many Catholics of good will have toward Pope Francis -- and, as importantly, toward their treatment by many other Catholics of good will who aren't so reserved.

I may return to this after he writes his fourth and final post in the series. Here, I just want to take up the concluding point of the third post:
This brings me to my final, and most painful, observation: conservative Catholicism in America is a papal personality cult. Full stop.

I know this, because I was a member in good standing, too. And that was the root cause of my crisis, when I took a clear look at it with the timely assistance of the Holy Spirit. My faith was too-papalcentric, to coin an adjective. So when the Pope began to sound weird and set off alarm bells, I couldn't process it. Seeing all my brothers and sisters in arms eating it all up made it worse. Crisis bad.
Seven months ago, I described much the same thing as a positive development:
One of the dynamics I think I've seen over the last couple of weeks is this: Catholics who were used to liking everything the Pope did found themselves not liking some of the things the Pope did, and that made them "concerned."

For my part, I think that's a good development. To be deep in history is to cease thinking that liking everything the Pope does is normal, and if the only way to get people deep in history is to have them life through it, so be it.
If I may wander off into Untestable Hypothesis-land for a few paragraphs:

There is in the Catholic Church two distinct but related phenomena: A cult of the papal office, which assigns the words and actions of the current Pope greater importance than the Church herself does; and cults of personality around the popes as individuals. Adherents of the cult of the papal office get along just fine, on balance, with adherents of the cult of personality around the current Pope.

When the Pope changes, however, adherents of the personality cult of the previous Pope who are not also adherents of the personality cult of the current Pope are baffled at the way their erstwhile mates in the cult of the papal office are bowing and scraping before this new fellow, despite his many evident shortcomings. Adherents of the cult of the papal office, meanwhile, are scandalized at the things coming out of the mouths of their erstwhile mates, who out of nowhere are sounding almost... Protestant.

Since Bl. John Paul II was Pope for so long, and since his was such an outsized personality, the distinctions between the cults became even harder to discern than usual, and a lot of Catholics came of age never realizing there were distinctions to be made. A lot of these "JPII Catholics" became adherents of the cult of the papal office without noticing they were overemphasizing the office -- in part while countering the Pope John XXIII Catholics who valued what a dead Pope might have said more than what the current Pope was saying.

Since Pope Benedict XVI was so closely associated with Bl. John Paul, there was not much of a rift between the two cults on his succession. The chatter I saw from the cultists of Benedict -- about how now things would get done, all right, you just see -- drew a far louder response from the anit-Benedictine JXXIII Catholics than from the JPII Catholics.

The change from Pope Benedict XVI to Pope Francis can't be glossed over (as hard as some have tried). The cultists of the papal office who are anti- (or at least contra-)Francis are caught off what they thought was a sure and certain balance, by the dissonance of their own perspective as well as the responses of their erstwhile mates. Their erstwhile mates, meanwhile, have only ever seen this sort of behavior among the anti-Vatican II hyper-traditionalists.

What we need to understand, I suspect, is that, from the historical perspective of papal apprehension, 2013 is at least as normal as the preceding 8, or 35, years.