I hate choosing sides. It might be the Libra in me, or the hoarder’s inability to make decisions, or the hideous memory of being picked last for everything in grammar school. I can’t even fill out a decent NCAA bracket, because I can find some reason why just about any team should win the mirror-ball trophy from the Big Dance with the Stars.
So I am particularly peeved by the swelling tendency to pit papal clique against papal claque, as though Catholics had to wear their popes on their sleeves as just one more polarizing falsehood—like we didn’t already have enough of those. Please, people! Do not go all-Twilighty, with your Team Francis and Team Benedict foolishness (not to mention the right-handed sedevacantism of Team Pius XII, the left-handed sedevacantism of Team John XXIII, and the Tridentine-liturgy sedevacantism of Team Pius V)!
Repeat after me: Difference in style is not necessarily difference in substance. (The papacy is not Bauhaus architecture.) And a preference for one pope’s style is not, should not ever be, a slap in the face of another’s. However difficult we may find it to ride the wind of the Spirit, which bloweth where it will, what is going on during these weeks of transition between Benedict and Francis is—praise God!—nothing anywhere near the kind of wholesale regime change practiced by Stephen VI, who had the body of his predecessor but one, Pope Formosus, exhumed, dressed in papal vestments, put on trial, and convicted of being unworthy of the papacy. The body was disfigured (the fingers cut from the hand the pope has used to sign documents) and thrown into the Tiber (it was later recovered) and every appointment, episcopal consecration, and decree of Formosus’s papacy invalidated. Let’s not act like the Cadaver Synod is going on as we speak.
I do think that some of the transitional aches and pains are caused by our not having had the traditional mourning period for a deceased pope. And then there are the stylistic differences, which would be notable enough even if they weren’t being broadcast around the world, analyzed, and embroidered upon at the speed of cyberspace. But the choosing of sides—and this reading of every papal twitch as though it required the choosing of sides—is unseemly.
Others have spoken about this more wisely and well. Elizabeth Scalia, torqued by the reports of the infamous “Carnival time is over” remark Pope Francis was said to have made, snarkily, on being offered the red velvet, ermine-trimmed mozzetta for his first appearance on the balcony of St Peter’s (the remark, we are learning, was never spoken, snarkily or otherwise), let her Irish rip and nailed the truth:
I will tell you that the tale purports to be about a cruel and utterly bitchy remark, made by Francis (as he was vesting as pope for the first time) and directed to an underling only doing his job; moreover the bitchiness was understood to be a swipe against Francis’ predecessor, Benedict.
I am just sick enough, though, to suspend any last vestiges of tact and grace that still reside within me and call this vicious little rumor out as the Pure-D Bullshit I believe it to be. Read more.
Max Lindenman, in a terrific-as-usual post mostly about the current papal edition of Project Runway, dismisses the Jets-and-Sharks rhetoric neatly:
In any case, Francis has gone on record denouncing “the spiritual poverty of our time,” which he defines as “the tyranny of relativism.” That’s Benedict’s line, and Francis gave his predecessor full credit. If there’s a nicer way of telling would-be reformers, “Ha-ha, no hermeneutic of rupture for you,” I can’t imagine what it might be. Read more.
The other day, a person who is very close and dear to me said: “I can’t help thinking about Benedict XVI and I can’t help feeling bad when I think of him seeing all the affection and enthusiasm that surround the new Pope…”. Knowing Ratzinger (as far as it is possible for one to really know him), it is hard to imagine him resenting the fact that his successor, Francis, is well liked by faithful and non-faithful alike. Frankly, the comments made by those who are concerned about the fondness Bergoglio inspires even in secular environments and contexts that are usually seen as being distant from the Church, appear out of place. It seems as though one cannot be truly Catholic without causing disagreements, disputes, controversies and dislike. Are the events of recent days just a “honey moon” between the new Pope and the people that is destined to end soon? We must wait and see what will happen. But we must recognise the Church’s spectacular ability to renew itself and start afresh with energy, despite the resignation of a Pope. [Read the full article, in which Tornielli quashes the carnival quip.]
It’s Paul, though, writing to those pesky Corinthians, who said first and best:
I urge you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree in what you say, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose. For it has been reported to me about you, my brothers, by Chloe’s people, that there are rivalries among you. I mean that each of you is saying, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.”
Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? . . . For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with the wisdom of human eloquence, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its meaning. The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. . . . For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Corinthians 1:10-24)
It’s enough to make me want to say “A plague on both (all) your houses,” but instead I’ll pray a blessing that we not stumble too scandalously on this skandalon, this stumbling block that is Christ. And ask that we remember that, chosen first or last or in between, Benedict-ines or Francis-cans, we are all playing for Team Jesus, and Team Jesus alone.