Perhaps it is destiny that the popes arrive at the anniversaries of the Second Vatican Council full of bitterness. Ten years ago, Benedict XVI, looking out the window of the Apostolic Palace, delivered a bitter speech, which called attention to the “bad fishes” in the Church’s net and that looked with nostalgia at the enthusiasm dominant fifty years earlier. On 11 October, Pope Francis recalled the 60th anniversary of the opening of the Council with a harsh speech, which denounced polarizations and asked Catholics to remain united because “a Church in love with Jesus has no time for clashes, poisons, and controversies. ”
The words of Pope Francis are striking because they hit the mark. Pope Francis said: “How many times, after the Council, have Christians worked hard to choose a part in the Church, without realizing that they are tearing their mother’s heart? How many times have we preferred to be ‘supporters of our own group’ rather than the servants of all, progressives and conservatives rather than brothers and sisters, ‘right-wing’ or ‘left-wing’ rather than Jesus; to stand up as ‘guardians of the truth’ or ‘soloists of novelty,’ instead of recognizing oneself as humble and grateful children of Holy Mother Church. ”
Yet, when you read these words of the Pope, a bitter-sweet sensation remains. Pope Francis is making the reception of the Second Vatican Council one of the main themes of the pontificate. The Traditionis Custodes, which effectively abolishes, with few exceptions, the ancient rite from the history of the Church, is justified precisely by the will to bring the Second Vatican Council to completion.
Pope Francis never fails to warn against backtracking, which he considers a dangerous ideology. Backward-leaning traditionalism is one of the greatest dangers for the Church, on a par with “progressivism that agrees to the world” because both are “infidelity” and “Pelagian selfishness, which put one’s tastes and plans before the love that pleases God.”
All correct. Yet, looking at Pope Francis’ pontificate and decisions, one cannot help but notice that in several cases, the Pope has oscillated between these two infidelities, seeking a balance that, in reality, he has struggled to find.
The Traditionis Custodes is the first example because, with that decision, the Pope closes the doors to a liturgical movement growing in the Church and not born outside of communion with the Pope.
Pope Francis seems to be choosing consistency, asking the Church to remain on the same line. He creates a division. Indeed, he makes more than one division. Some bishops have followed the norms slavishly, and others have interpreted them freely. There will be faithful who accept the new decisions and others who join the traditionalist world.
Benedict XVI, in opening the doors to the traditional world, had also asked the Priestly Society of Saint Pius X members to sign a doctrinal preamble to return to full communion with Rome. That preamble provided for the acceptance of the Second Vatican Council.
On the other hand, Pope Francis takes the path of sweeping away all resistance. In doing so, however, he leaves everyone where they are, without losing anything, but without gaining anything.
Pope Francis called for avoiding polarization and preserving communion, overcoming “the nostalgia of the past, the regret of relevance, the attachment to power.”
Again, it is a message that sounds ambiguous at various levels. Asking to overcome the regret of relevance and nostalgia is to take for granted that the Catholic world still regrets the period in which it weighted on world affairs and in which it had power.
Yet, as early as 2011 in Germany, Benedict XVI had spoken of “secular trends” which had been providential to demondanize the Church so that she could return to Jesus.
It is not, therefore, a new appeal. But then, Pope Francis was very political in his decisions, careful to have weight even in the secular world. In many cases, Pope Francis’s decisions had sacrificed people on the altar of hypocrisy, as he admitted when he explained why he had accepted the resignation of the archbishop of Paris, Michel Aupetit.
Even the decision to hold a trial of a cardinal in the Vatican court, as is happening now, responds to a decision to show the world a particular type of governing.
Pope Francis wants everyone to be put on an equal footing, that priests not feel they are above the laity, and that bishops not have greater power than priests. In doing so, however, he deconstructs a world, empties symbols of meaning, and, paradoxically, does not lead the Church towards the Council. Instead, he makes her return to a period when only the pope’s authority mattered.
And we see every day that, beyond the proclamations of a synodal Church, the Pope’s authority alone counts. Thus, Pope Francis’ appeals for the unity of the Church sound more like a personal complaint about criticisms against him from various sectors of the Church.
The reasoning seems to be that, if he is the pope, it is because the Holy Spirit inspired his election, thus he should be supported, not criticized.
The Pope asks for it by calling for a rejection of self-referential attitudes. By doing so, he proves to be self-referential himself. And it is this self-referentiality that, first of all, creates division. In recent years, the healthy debate from which true unity is born has apparently been lacking within the Church.