Holy smokes. Lots of news about the Pope recently. In a nutshell, the news media thinks this is Pope Francis:
That's about the sum of it. They are cultivating this image at all costs, and since they pretty much lack credibility on religious issues anyway, there's nothing for them to lose. If you haven't heard, the big story is that the Holy Father was answering questions on a plane ride. The exchange went as follows:
QUESTION: I would like to ask permission to pose a rather delicate question. Another image that went around the world is that of Monsignor Ricca and the news about his personal life. I would like to know, your Holiness, what will be done about this question. How should one deal with this question and how does your Holiness wish to deal with the whole question of the gay lobby?
FRANCIS: Regarding the matter of Monsignor Ricca, I did what Canon Law required and did the required investigation. And from the investigation, we did not find anything corresponding to the accusations against him. We found none of that. That is the answer. But I would like to add one more thing to this: I see that so many times in the Church, apart from this case and also in this case, one looks for the “sins of youth,” for example, is it not thus?, And then these things are published. These things are not crimes. The crimes are something else: child abuse is a crime. But sins, if a person, or secular priest or a nun, has committed a sin and then that person experienced conversion, the Lord forgives and when the Lord forgives, the Lord forgets and this is very important for our lives. When we go to confession and we truly say “I have sinned in this matter,” the Lord forgets and we do not have the right to not forget because we run the risk that the Lord will not forget our sins, eh? This is a danger. This is what is important: a theology of sin. So many times I think of St. Peter: he committed one of the worst sins denying Christ. And with this sin they made him Pope. We must think about fact often.
But returning to your question more concretely: in this case [Ricca] I did the required investigation and we found nothing. That is the first question. Then you spoke of the gay lobby. Agh… so much is written about the gay lobby. I have yet to find on a Vatican identity card the word gay. They say there are some gay people here. I think that when we encounter a gay person, we must make the distinction between the fact of a person being gay and the fact of a lobby, because lobbies are not good. They are bad. If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge that person? The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this point beautifully but says, wait a moment, how does it say, it says, these persons must never be marginalized and “they must be integrated into society.”
The problem is not that one has this tendency; no, we must be brothers, this is the first matter. There is another problem, another one: the problem is to form a lobby of those who have this tendency, a lobby of the greedy people, a lobby of politicians, a lobby of Masons, so many lobbies. This is the most serious problem for me. And thank you so much for doing this question. Thank you very much!
Now, in that entire three paragraph answer, what do you think drew all the reporting?
"Pope Francis reverses Church policy on homosexuals!"
This is ridiculous stuff, as any cursory review of the Pope's comments will make clear. We reported on the Msgr Ricca issue a while back. If the Pope has said anything, it's that there is a gay lobby, but there's no proof that Msgr. Ricca is part of it, even if he did have some past indiscretions. Hell, the Lavender Mafia might have burned Ricca themselves if they thought they wouldn't be able to manipulate him.
However, it does highlight a problem with Popes making comments that lack clarity. This was tried with Pope Benedict on more than one occasion as well, his comment on homosexual condom use probably being the most notable example. This is nothing new, but in the era of the utterly malicious, 24-hour news cycle media, it is imperative to keep in mind. Let me provide an older example.
This guy is Pope Honorius I.
He once wrote the following lines to Patriarch Sergius of Constantinople:
"Wherefore we acknowledge one Will of our Lord Jesus Christ, for evidently it was our nature and not the sin in it which was assumed by the Godhead, that is to say, the nature which was created before sin, not the nature which was vitiated by sin."
"He's a Monothelite!" became the battle cry of those who would deny the authority of the Holy See, from Dollinger to Romanides. Pope John IV defended Honorius's comments by explaining them in orthodox fashion. Pope Agatho was clear that the Apostolic See had never taught heresy. None of this matters, really. The damage was done, and it continues to this day.
Likewise for Pope Francis. I'm not advising that the Pope just never say anything. After all, his primary role is that of teacher. He has got to be prepared to have his words twisted and consequently must speak in the most cautious and unequivocal way possible. Sort of like how he did back in 2010 when speaking about homosexual marriage:
“Let’s not be naive, we’re not talking about a simple political battle; it is a destructive pretension against the plan of God. We are not talking about a mere bill, but rather a machination of the Father of Lies that seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God.”
Yeah, let's see the media distort that. Sounds like a hell of a lot of judgment there to me.
Anyways, this all brings up another, less-reported, and far more significant story involving the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate. I'm linking to Fr. Zuhlsdorf's account to mitigate accusations that we are somehow hostile to Pope Francis. The quick version is that there are some alleged internal divisions within the Friars that somehow center around their widespread use of the Traditional Mass. The response of the Holy See was initially to send in an Apostolic Visitation. Now, it has been to suppress the TLM for all the Friars unless they have special permission.
This is what Summorum Pontificum said about the matter:
Communities of Institutes of consecrated life and of Societies of apostolic life, of either pontifical or diocesan right, wishing to celebrate Mass in accordance with the edition of the Roman Missal promulgated in 1962, for conventual or "community" celebration in their oratories, may do so. If an individual community or an entire Institute or Society wishes to undertake such celebrations often, habitually or permanently, the decision must be taken by the Superiors Major, in accordance with the law and following their own specific decrees and statues.
So this decision by Pope Francis looks to be an actual reversal of policy. Many people, Fr. Zuhlsdorf included, seem to be writing this off as an internal matter for the Friars and indicative of nothing else. After all, surely it must have been an enormous problem, with scores (if not hundreds) of the Friars crying out for liberation from the oppression of their order offering old liturgy.
Well, according to Tancred's report, the complaint was made by six of the Friars 800 members. Six.
As to the notion that this doesn't affect the Church at large, I must disagree. Concerns about the liturgy were already being expressed when he was elected., but frankly, I don't think the Holy Father is hostile to the TLM. I really don't think it's even on his radar or that he saw this as being a big deal. It was probably presented to him as an efficient way to resolve the issues.
But it is a big deal. First, it basically suggests that the TLM is part of the problem and that there is something wrong with it or with those who offer it. When something had to be done, ditching the TLM was the course of action. Second, it sets a precedent that there are circumstances for restricting the Traditional Mass that aren't really contemplated by the current governing legislation. This type of stuff lends itself to the proliferation of such reasons, and pretty soon, we're back to the way things were 30 years ago.
As usual, there is tolerance and openness and dialogue for anything and everything. Except stuff like the TLM.
Anyways, if I may engage in my own speculation, I think this says little about Pope Francis except to confirm earlier theories that his priorities are elsewhere. We thought and hoped they would be on Curial reform. Even that hasn't happened yet. We have the Commission of 8, but that's it, and nobody knows what they'll be doing. Nobody has been disciplined. Nobody has been kicked out. I very much hope that the papal office and its obligations haven't overwhelmed this critical necessity.
Finally, if I make an observation wherein I do agree with Fr. Zuhlsdorf, here is another pope from history:
This is Benedict IX. St. Peter Damian called him "demon from hell in the disguise of a priest." He was that bad. Even if we edit out the worst of the rumors (which are pretty damn bad), he was the worst pope of all time, engaging in everything from fornication to simony.
What would we do with a guy like this on the Throne of Peter these days? What kind of field day would the 24-hour news cycle have with these kinds of stories. People's faith would be utterly shattered. We've got it easy right now. If this is the worst thing Pope Francis ever does, thank God for it. He's the Pope. Don't be a wuss and let stuff like this bother you.
Deal with it.