Monday, January 02, 2023

What's Up with Conservative vs. Progressive Catholics?


Benedict XVI
Being a politics hound, I catch the scent even when I probably shouldn't, because in this particular instance, I'm drawn to an article in the WashPost suggesting that the death of former Pope Benedict XVI has major political ramifications for the Church, and as I'm not a Catholic and have no insight whatsoever into the theology or its internal politics, I should probably stick to Baptist preachers and our garden-variety Southern "Christian" hypocrites. 

That said -- and I'm somewhat astonished myself at the things I find on this blog that I posted about years ago -- I was following the political firestorm that the new Pope Francis unleashed with his much more progressive attitude when he took the papal throne in 2013. I had forgot that he promptly called "right-wing Christianity" a "sickness," and that Congresswoman Virginia Sometimes-I'm-a-Catholic-sometimes-a-Baptist Foxx struggled to find anything positive to say about him when he came to Mugstomp-on-the-Potomac in 2015 and addressed a joint session. Because, as the NYTimes explained

The pope’s visit [to Capitol Hill in September] comes with inherent tension for many Republicans, including those who are Catholic. While he has made no changes in church doctrine, Francis has forcefully staked out ideological ground opposite that of Mr. Boehner and his party. He has excoriated the excesses of capitalism as the “dung of the devil,” pleaded for action to stop global warming and enthusiastically supported the new nuclear accord with Iran.

Francis in his first apostolic exhortation to the church, found libertarianism antithetical to Christianity and became a champion for acknowledging climate change. That was enough to unleash Fox News yakkers to take pot-shots. Then I discovered that soon after Trump was inaugurated in 2017, I posted this on WataugaWatch:
Pope Francis 

Steve Bannon, who is not only a Catholic but a self-described "rad-trad" (radical traditionalist), is on record calling Pope Francis "a socialist/communist." Not only has Bannon gone after Pope Francis with language and an attitude that belongs to the depths of the Red-baiting witch-hunts of about 1955, but he's also allying himself with anti-Francis cardinals in the Vatican who are now intent on not just resisting the new pope's outreach to the poor and disenfranchised but also on reversing his more inclusive approach to the Church.

In other words, I should not have been surprised that Benedict's death would have an impact on the "rad-trad" crowd of conservative Catholics. From the WashPost article:

...Even in retirement, [Benedict] was embraced by traditionalists as the embodiment of their ideals. His death leaves that movement — which at times is vocal and oppositional to Francis — without a figure of comparable clout....

...[Benedict] was far from universally beloved, including in his home country of Germany, where the church in recent years — battered by scandal — had sought to modernize, reconsidering stances on homosexuality and celibacy, in an approach antithetical to Benedict’s. Wir Sind Kirche, a movement advocating for church reforms, said in a statement about Benedict’s death that he had brought the church to a “theological standstill” with a “climate of fear.” ...

...the details of how Benedict conducted himself as a retiree proved problematic for the church. He elected not to revert to his given name, Joseph Ratzinger. He remained in the Vatican rather than returning to Germany. He continued dressing in papal white. Despite clearly asserting that Francis was the lone authority figure, he was embraced by conservatives as an alternative power, particularly as Francis sought to modernize the church.

The greatest sense of mourning is likely to be felt among Catholic traditionalists, who saw Benedict as a protector of the eternal truths. He spoke about the dangers of secularism and societies that didn’t allow religious points of view. With pronouncements — and sometimes with purges of liberal theologians — he held the church line on social teachings. His appointment of conservative bishops helped push the American church toward the right. He also eased restrictions on the Latin Mass, an ancient rite adored by traditionalists — a move that was later reversed by Pope Francis.

Traditionalists sometimes have felt under siege in the Francis era. They chafe at his more ambiguous style in relation to hot-button topics, including homosexuality. Francis also has reseeded the College of Cardinals with more like-minded figures, increasing the odds — although hardly guaranteeing — that the next pope has a progressive bent. Traditionalists, in interviews, said their movement would not change substantially without Benedict, because for years he had been more of a symbol than an active participant.


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