by Michael Hamill
I have written before about how to talk about the pope, and here I am writing about it again, at a less happy time. I am not telling you what to say about Traditionis Custodes and I am not really telling you how to talk about the pope. I am suggesting that when speaking about him you keep in mind your long-term relationship with the Church and with him.
Belonging to the Church is very important to me, and the only analogy I have for that belonging is the family. I will always be a member of my family. I will always be a member of the Church. I am a member of the Church that we actually have with the people who are actually in it. Contempt destroys families. Contempt cannot destroy the Church, but it can injure it.
The Church is large and complicated, but thought about correctly, there is a particular place for us in it. I once heard somebody say we should be obedient to our “ecclesiastical superiors.” I found it jarring. I thought to myself, “I have a pastor. I have a bishop. I have the pope.” Those, I thought, are the people to whom I owe obedience. Whatever candidates for “ecclesiastical superior” may be out there, those are the only ones I know about. Every other Catholic is my brother or sister in Christ, but my relationship with my spiritual siblings is not like my relationship with those three. I like that the Church has an organization, but, as it is applicable to me, I like that it is not a complicated one.
Pope, bishop and pastor have important jobs, but, because of our fallen state, they may not do those jobs perfectly. They get those jobs in the complicated way everything happens in this world. Sometimes wise and perceptive people put them in their position after careful thought. Sometimes wise people make mistakes. Sometimes no wise people are involved, or they are outnumbered. Sometimes the ideal candidate gets the job. Sometimes it is not quite the right person. Sometimes it is the wrong person.
That is the way the world works. The Church puts men in important jobs in a way that is not deeply different from the way we all wind up in jobs, places, and families. Some people think Pope Francis was not the best pick. That conclusion, though, is not relevant to anything. Even if our parents are not right for each other if they had not gotten together we would not be here, but we can imagine a world without other family members and thinking that they got here the wrong way is not helpful either.
Traditionis Custodes is a bad idea. The most common justification for it I have seen is that some people who attend the traditional Mass have bad ideas, even wrong ones. That is not a good argument. An abuse of something does not negate its use, and if there is any evidence of abuse there is not much. More unity between the people attending the T.L.M. and the the New Mass will not be accomplished by allowing the T.L.M. but forbidding it in parishes where the New Mass is also said. All of this is the end result of a decades-long campaign of people with influence in the Church. They worked against the T.L.M. for a long time and they got this.
“To have a right to do a thing is not at all the same as to be right in doing it.” Chesterton, of course. I see arguments that say Pope Francis was without the power to do this. I do not understand them. The point seems to be that popes only have the power to do good things for the Church, not bad things. In any event, though, the pope having the power to do it does not mean it was right, or that I have to pretend it was right. People talk about obedience, but I do not think obedience means saying something I think is false. Saying two plus two equals five is not obedience unless someone tells you to say it. The Church does not tell us to say what is not true. I do not decide when, where, and how Masses are to be said. If I did I could obey or not obey Traditionis Custodes, but I do not.
Traditionis Custodes is destructive. I think what Urban Hannon had to say about it establishes that pretty well. But how should we talk about its author?
As I say, I have no analogy for the Church but the family. Imagine a father with a long history of not being there for his children when he should have been. How the children should respond to this is, of course, a question for them, depending on their circumstances. Imagine that a father like this showed up at his son’s graduation. I can imagine a son angry at him for neglecting him so much but showing up when it was easy. I can imagine a son happy that at least he showed up for this. Which son was right depends on the circumstances, what actually happened, what the failures were, but we can say that the happy son is happier.
When people think they have been abandoned or injured by their father, it is up to them to decide how bad it is and what to do about it. I know that some fathers do things so bad that children decide not to have anything to do with him. I once had an argument with a man who thought that Pope Francis was deliberately trying to destroy the Catholic Church. I wish I had convinced him that he was wrong, but after I failed to do so, I thought there was little benefit in saying, “Well you may be right about his wanting to destroy the Church, but watch how you talk about him anyway.”
I do not think it is useful to try to convince yourself that the pope meant well here. I do not know what the pope’s motives are, and it seems to me likely that he has been lied to. What he says about the people attending the T.L.M. is not factually accurate, but it is his job to know, especially if he is thinking about destroying their liturgical lives. “If only my father did not have such a malicious girlfriend things would be better” may be true, but it is not a defense.
If someone sincerely believes that Traditionis Custodes is a good idea, then he thinks that, and he hasn’t got a problem. I do not think we have a duty to try to convince ourselves of that against the evidence of what we see and what we know. I would not tell the son at his graduation that now that his father has shown up things have changed and he should assume his father will be doing the right thing from now on.
I think it is possible that in the long run Traditionis Custodes will do more good than harm. It makes us want to know more about what good liturgy is and it makes us appreciate one another more. The gloating of some shows just how vicious modernists can be when they think they are winning. Good results that outweigh the bad do not justify it, though. After Attila has ravaged your region you can conclude that he was the Scourge of God. It would be incorrect to say that Attila did the right thing.
I think being angry or feeling betrayed is a natural human reaction. Perhaps someone can explain that those are not the right feelings, but it will not be me. I do not think we should keep our thoughts and feelings secret. If a father makes a child feel angry or betrayed, brothers and sisters should talk about it.
I do not like Traditionis Custodes but I cannot say I am crushed. It is a surprise but not a shock. Other Catholics are much more hurt by it than I am, and their feelings are sincere. Their feelings may be more appropriate to the situation than mine. There have been denunciations of the pope that I think are too harsh, but if, hypothetically, I could tolerate my brother saying something about my father that went too far because he was mad at him, I can tolerate some excess from my brothers and sisters in Christ, too.
I think we should tell the truth about what we think and how we feel to our fellow Catholics, our brothers and sisters. I do not think we should pretend that it was the right thing to do and should not say it was unless we really think it was. But Pope Francis is still the pope, and we should keep that in mind. I do not mean that in the sense that he outranks us. I mean that we are related to him. If the children ignore their father, the family is injured, even if that is the right thing to do. If family members express contempt for one another, damage is done that is very difficult to undo.
We should not talk about Pope Francis as if he is a stranger. He is related to us in the Church. The relationship is as real as a family relationship. I think we should speak about him as if he is close to us, even if we think he has done wrong. This is the Church we have. There is no other.
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