Several recent news stories indicate a certain impatience among Conservative Catholics. Perhaps they are signalling that they are not going to be quite as quiescent for this Pope as they were for Paul VI.
Bishop Bernard Fellay, Superior General of the radical traditionalist SSPX, gave a homily recently in English in which he criticized Pope Francis quite harshly. He accused the Pope of being a modernist, of making the situation in the Church 10,000 times worse, and of dividing the Church. Strangely, the Vatican apparently felt the need to respond to these criticisms. Cardinal Pell, a ConservaCath member of Pope Francis’s new-fangled privy council, got the job and said:
To put it politely, I think that’s absolute rubbish! Francis said he’s a loyal son of the Church, and his record shows that. He’s very, very concerned for the day-to-day life of the people, and for those who are suffering, those not well off and those in difficult situations. He’s a completely faithful exponent of Christ’s teaching and the Church’s tradition.
Q. So people like Fellay have completely misread Pope Francis?
A. Yes, it is a gigantic misreading! In actual fact, the Lefebvrists – many of them – have misread the situation for decades. It was to Benedict’s great credit that he tried to reconcile with them, but they didn’t respond. Now the Church today accepts the Second Vatican Council. You don’t have to accept every jot and tittle of it, but it is part of Church’s life now, there’s no way around that.
That the Vatican felt it necessary to send Pell to do this work is interesting. That his defense of the Pope is so comically weak “Hey, the Pope says the Pope is orthodox, so no problem!” is even more interesting. I guess he vaguely references the Pope’s record, but what can he be talking about? As bishop, the current Pope was enthusiastically and publicly disobedient of Benedict XVI in liturgical matters, and as Pope he has been a copious fountain of odd sayings. But, the most interesting thing is that second answer above. Here is a Cardinal of the Church, the Pope’s own privy councilor, repeating the SSPX position on the Council—that Catholics don’t have to accept all of it. It is disguised as a criticism of the SSPX, of course, but it says what it says.
It seems implausible that the Pope would wish to be defended in this precise way. No matter how you read this defense—as a genuine attempt by a ConservaCath to defend the Pope or as a disguised criticism of him, it is bad. If I am wrong above and this defense by Pell was not at the Vatican’s request, it is even worse.
Also in the news, Cardinal Cipriani, the first member of perhaps the most important ConservaCath organization in the Church, Opus Dei, publicly rebuked Abp Mueller, the disturbingly liberal Prefect of the CDF, as “naive.” In context, “naive” seems to be a very polite way of saying Communist. Mueller responded to the rebuke, and then Cardinal Cipriani rebuked him again, repeating the earlier charge and calling him a liar into the mix. This all happened just a month after Francis confirmed that Mueller would be remaining as Prefect, thus basically promising that Mueller would be made a Cardinal. The normal way to criticize the King is to say he is badly advised, and the normal way to attack the King is to attack an important adviser of the King.
Finally, the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate (a group somewhere on the border between being ConservaCath and moderate traditionalist) was, over the summer, attacked by Pope. Specifically, it was denied the use of the Latin Mass amid the Holy Father’s hurled invective against traditionalists generally. Now, this was done for the reason (on the pretext?) of protecting the more liberal elements of the FFI from the evil traditionalists who were allegedly torturing them. The evil traditionalist elements have (evidently) responded with a petition by some 200 friars to form a separate congregation devoted to the Latin Mass. This action puts the Holy Father in the position of either agreeing to the request and essentially vacating the earlier attack or refusing the request and admitting that the reason was, in fact, a pretext. This, again, is a time-honored way of resisting an unjust ruler (and, no I am not claiming that I know that this is what is going on here): putting him in a position where he must either be just or make his injustice publicly manifest.
One way of reading these stories is that the more conservative elements of the Church are firing shots across the bow of the current administration. They would then be indications that Bp Fellay’s prediction about His Holiness’s divisiveness was not so far off the mark.