“Many of us non-RC traditionalist all over the world had awaited the news from Rome with some trepidation,” I wrote here on March 7 of last year. “In the end it turned out to be rather good. Pope Francis’… election is a compromise which will keep most traditionalists contented, if not exactly enthused, while giving the reformist zealots another decade or so to select a strong, charismatic candidate for their long-planned onslaught.”
A year and a half later, my tentative optimism appears to have been unjustified. The onslaught is under way, and Pope Francis is not acting to stop it. Somewhat belatedly I have just finished reading his 2013 224-page, 48000-word Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel). It is his apostolic exhortation, nine-tenths of which a traditionalist – Orthodox as well as Catholic – will find sound and even enlightening, e.g. “The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience.”
Pope Francis rightly invites “all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least “an openness to letting him encounter them.” He is touchingly eloquent when he asserts that no one can strip us of the dignity bestowed upon us by Christ’s boundless and unfailing love: “With a tenderness which never disappoints, but is always capable of restoring our joy, he makes it possible for us to lift up our heads and to start anew. Let us not flee from the resurrection of Jesus, let us never give up, come what will. May nothing inspire more than his life, which impels us onwards!”
The devil is in the detail. Pope Francis criticizes “those who long for a monolithic body of doctrine guarded by all and leaving no room for nuance.” He has no time for the “self-absorbed promethean neopelagianism of those who… feel superior to others because they observe certain rules or remain intransigently faithful to a particular Catholic style from the past.” He further asserts that “more than by fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges” and criticizes the fact that “a supposed soundness of doctrine or discipline leads instead to a narcissistic and authoritarian elitism.” He also asserts that “young people call us to renewed and expansive hope, for they represent new directions for humanity and open us up to the future, lest we cling to a nostalgia for structures and customs which are no longer life-giving in today’s world.”
This is disturbing at best, and actually rather depressing. Instead of longing for “a monolithic body of doctrine,” should the faithful settle for heterodoxy? What exactly is “promethean neopelagianism”? Am I an unreconstructed “promethean neopelagian” by virtue of being Orthodox? And what do all those “young people” call for exactly, where, when and how? Do their calls negate the magisterium?
I hope that my ultramontane friends will provide an enlightening comment.