Will the New Pope ‘Collapse’ the Catholic Church?

Rather than immediately rushing to analyze Pope Francisviews regarding homosexuality — as if they should be any surprise — I have found it illuminating to follow the commentary of traditionalist Catholics on today’s events.

Michael Brendan Dougherty, writing in Slate, has a quite dour appraisal:

Liturgical traditionalists (myself included) can only be depressed by this election — it is almost the worst result possible for those of us who think the new liturgy lost the theological profundity and ritual beauty of the Tridentine Mass. Benedict’s liberation of the traditional Latin Mass and revisions to the new vernacular Mass have not been implemented at all in Cardinal Bergoglio’s own diocese. Already some of the small breaks with liturgical tradition at the announcement of his election are being interpreted as a move toward the grand, unruly, and improvisational style of John Paul II; an implicit rebuke of Benedict.

Those Catholics who pine for a more “modern” pope are in essence wishing for the Church’s demise, Dougherty would argue. The grand modernization experiment, Vatican II, far from expanding the influence and relevance of Catholicism, actually served to severely diminish its appeal by muddling the uniqueness of Church tradition. Americans and Europeans have been shedding the religion by the droves ever since, to the point that priest recruitment has dropped to crisis-levels. Dougherty wonders whether Pope Francis’ reign, with all its novelty and break from tradition, “heralds collapse.” He concludes:

Pope Francis is now the man at the head of a Church impaired by immoral clergy, negligent bishops, and a moribund intellectual and spiritual life. God help him.

EDIT: More grave traditionalist blowback

About michaeltracey

Journalist based in Brooklyn, New York. Follow me on Twitter at @mtracey.

  • http://twitter.com/gman747 gary

    If a massive child sex abuse scandal didnt collapse it a pope couldn’t.

  • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com/ trivialknot

    The pope’s views on homosexuality may be predictable, but I think it still has more relevance than the pope’s views on the exact language and words used in mass. None of Catholic mass makes much sense anyways.

  • Guest

    The only way for the Catholic organization to maintain any appearance of “integrity” is to treat the blatant lack thereof with blatant disregard and carry on with tradition. Acknowledging the atrocities or attempting to modernize tradition to compete with an increasingly secular world would spell certain doom for the Church. The Church is completely unecessary when it is no longer able to provide a distinct alternative to reason.

  • http://twitter.com/atheistedu Atheist EDU

    The only way for the Catholic organization to maintain any appearance of “integrity” is to treat its complete lack thereof with blatant disregard and carry on with tradition as usual. Acknowledging the atrocities or attempting to modernize tradition to compete with an increasingly secular world would spell certain doom for the Church. The Church is completely unecessary when it is no longer able to provide a distinct alternative to reason.

  • RobMcCune

    “a move toward the grand, unruly, and improvisational style of John Paul II;”

    JP II, Unruly? ROFL How can any outside observer take these people seriously?

  • SeekerLancer

    It’ll take longer than this pope’s lifetime for the church to “collapse” if such a thing were ever to happen. But I don’t think it’s an understatement to say that it’s in decline and that the number of priests has reached a critical point. Even when I was still attending mass, churches were closing left and right and combining their services to save on their overstretched clergy.

    It’s only got worse since then and it’s also clear that a lot of people who are drawn to the cloth aren’t in it for religious reasons.

    If they decide to actually start dealing with this problem, then good for them. They’re still a horrible organization but it’s a positive step to reducing the amount of suffering in the world. We’ll see if it happens, but given the drought of priests they have available I’m not going to hold my breath that cover-ups won’t continue, only for us to learn about again them in another 20-30 years.

  • BobaFuct

    Sorry Dougherty, you lost me at “liturgical.”

  • Stegman

    The new Pope has remarkably Progressive economic views, but that is of course ignored.
    It seems like atheism is becoming equated with homosexuality.

  • Pattrsn

    “Pope Francis is now the man at the head of a Church impaired by immoral clergy, negligent bishops, and a moribund intellectual and spiritual life.”

    In other words business as usual for the head of the Catholic Church.

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Invisible_Pink_Unicorn Anna

    No one’s saying he’s all bad. Many Catholics have progressive economic views. That’s commendable, but it doesn’t absolve them of their bigotry and their tireless efforts to push their religion into our secular laws.

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Invisible_Pink_Unicorn Anna

    Plus, no one cares about any of that except traditionalist Catholics, and they’re a tiny minority. The content of the Mass has nothing to do with social issues, and social issues (along with corruption) are what’s hurting the church.

  • RobMcCune

    “It seems like atheism is becoming equated with homosexuality”


  • Chris B

    Social issues and improved scientific education/literacy, I would say. Faith no longer offers the most compelling answers.

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Invisible_Pink_Unicorn Anna

    I think he means with support for gay rights, but I’m not sure what that has to do with it. The problem’s not just gay rights. It’s everything. The Catholic church consistently uses religion to try to deny legal rights and to stigmatize people, as Bergoglio did in Argentina. Why any atheist (even one who didn’t care about LGBT issues) would be happy about that is beyond me.

  • Duke OfOmnium

    I followed the link. There is much feces in the collective shorts of the author and the commenters. If they’d somehow elected Ed Asner as pope, I don’t think there would be as much sanctimonious idiocy.

  • Robster

    Wow! How white is that new pope! Maybe he’s into (new blue) Omo-sexuality.

  • Robster

    Churches in the Australian state of Tasmania has been importing clerics from Africa because there’s no locals silly enough to follow the dogma and take the pledge. I’m sure the Africans are good people but it’s a bit like putting Big bird in front of a physics class,

  • JL

    What do you mean it doesn’t “make much sense?”

  • JL

    Wow, that was very witty of you! Bravo!

  • JL

    So your ignorance of the subject matter is grounds for you dismiss these people as unserious? Ironic.

  • JL

    What legal rights? Do rights exist before they are passed as law?

  • JL

    It’s not a distinct “alternative to reason,” you silly man, it’s faith seeking reason.

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Invisible_Pink_Unicorn Anna

    Not sure what’s being contested here. The Catholic church seeks to stop same-sex couples from having the same rights to civil marriage that opposite-sex couples have. Bergoglio entreated Catholics to pray that they would not be able to have those rights in Argentina.

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Invisible_Pink_Unicorn Anna

    That’s true for a lot of churches, but I think science is relatively unimportant for most people leaving Catholicism. It’s easy to be a Catholic who accepts modern science, since the Vatican does support evolution, the scientific method, the age of the universe, carbon dating, etc.

  • RobMcCune

    Wow did you miss the point. The joke is that trivial minutia makes a pope an ‘unruly’ radical. And you’re unironically taking issue with the idea that it’s not the major revolution you’re making it out to be.

  • TheBlackCat13

    When I visited the Vatican last year, there was a lot of John Paul stuff for sale in there. It was hard to find any Benedikt stuff there. Whatever the hard-core catholics think about the two, it is obvious which gave the church a better image.

  • ortcutt

    Vatican II diminished the appeal of the Church? What evidence is there for that claim? The Church has faced a secularizing world (at least in the developed world) and there’s no real evidence that the Church would have fared any better if they hadn’t done the modest reforms of Vatican II. There have always been and there will always be aggrieved traditionalists in every religion. There are Russian Orthodox who broke from the Church there over whether to make the sign of the Cross with two fingers rather than with three. There are Greek Orthodox who broke from the Church there over the change to the Gregorian Calendar. You can’t make everyone happy.

  • ortcutt

    I’ll be impressed when he actually does something about it as Pope or calls economic inequality the work of the “Prince of Lies”.

  • TheBlackCat13

    And if the Pope’s importance lay in his perceived authority on economic matters, that might be a relevant piece of information. But the Pope’s authority lies in his position as the political head of the church and in his moral and religious teachings. So his positions on those subjects are where we are focusing.

    He might be a great sushi chef too for all I know, but that isn’t all that relevant to the influence he will have on the world as Pope.

  • Duke OfOmnium

    Well, nothing fails like prayer!

  • SecularPatriot


  • Pattrsn


  • SecularPatriot

    There’s a lot of religious language that is completely lost on me. Religious folks tell me that it’s because I don’t understand it. Personally, I think most words in the theists vocabulary have been used in so many different contexts as to be nearly meaningless (belief, faith, God, etc).

  • Pattrsn

    Desperately seeking a reason

  • CelticWhisper

    Yes. Remember that, at least in the US, the Constitution does not grant rights to the people. It was written from the perspective that rights are inherent, and serves to spell out clearly the limitations on how far government is allowed to restrict those rights.

    It’s not “You’re allowed to do these things.” It’s “You do what you want, and these are the only ways we’re allowed to tell you ‘no’.”

    LGBT rights, then, are not something to be newly granted to people. They’re something that the people always had and that governments have historically always infringed upon. Efforts to protect LGBT equality are actually efforts to say “Enough of this business of interfering with our natural, intrinsic right to live just as freely as heterosexual people.”

  • baal

    Did you see the extremely bold young miss down at the Hawthorne Estate? Her hem was so high that you could see part of her ankles!

  • Carmelita Spats

    Silly man…Faith is a cognitive bias…a cognitive bias in search of confirmation bias and it all evens out in the end if you shut your eyes…Jesus punishes thought crimes with eternal torture. I’d be damned scared.

  • Carmelita Spats

    Swallowing the “transubstantiated” (?????) flesh of a 2,000 year old virgin carpenter who was his own father and sacrificed himself to himself…An incarnational-trinitarian-atoning-resurrecting-ascending-soon-to-be-returning-god…Mass sounds exactly like the Mad Hatter’s soliloquy but then again, I’m the March Hare so enlighten me, Alice…and please pass the “transubstantiated” (????) blood engorged communion chalice at this Mad Tea Party. Next up: The Dormouse, Scientologists, Lord Xenu and a spaceship piloted by talking, lava-eating, sea clams. Religion=Superstition.

  • Bob Geier

    That is sort of true if you cross sectarian lines. Within Catholicism, the language is consistent. Within Christendom it’s fairly consistent; the farther you go the more muddled it gets.

    It’s no different, though, than the way many scientists use scientific terms, even important ones like “energy.” It does have a specific meaning, but in terms of the way it is used in ecology vs. theoretical physics, the application is very different.

  • Bob Geier

    Do you not believe that moral and religious teachings apply to economics?

    It seems to me that the teachings of a former Polish pope did an awful lot to protect and enhance the labor union movement in his native Poland. Sufficient to set them on a course which led to the freedom of Eastern Europe.

  • Jeff

    Modern masses probably make a lot more sense now that they’re not required to be conducted in a dead language.

    Seriously, why is anybody so angry about that? Is it that when the congregation can understand what is being said, they realize what they’ve really been giving money and prestige to all these years?

  • Gabriel

    They act like this guy wasn’t chosen by god and that he isn’t the infallible voice of god. They attack him as if he is just a human selected by other humans.

  • Drakk

    I don’t think religious teachings apply to anything much.

  • SecularPatriot

    Having switched from cosmology to environmental economics, I see what you mean.

  • Stonyground

    And magic bones, don’t forget the magic bones

  • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com/ trivialknot

    I grew up Catholic. I was repeating all those phrases in mass long before I knew what any of it meant. In some cases, saying it wrong because we had an echo-ey church and I couldn’t hear it right. But it didn’t matter.

  • Bob Geier

    Different issue. The mass has been in the vernacular since Vatican II, with a reasonably modern English translation in use in America. Just a couple of years ago Benedict replaced that modern English translation with a very stilted, very literal translation from the Latin which many American Catholics (and others for other languages) find … uninspiring. While it was welcomed by the traditionalists who are also in favor of the old Latin Mass, it was widely viewed by many of the rest as an example of mindless and arbitrary authority without sound pastoral reasoning.

    So to the extent pope Francis was “on the other side” of that liturgical change, it likely reflects his views on pastoral ministry and the exercise of authority in a positive way.

  • Bob Geier

    You are confusing the Catholic church with some of our fundamentalist brethren I’m afraid. Catholicism would teach that reason is necessary, and there is no alternative. God gave man a brain to use it. All we would say is that while necessary, reason is not sufficient.

  • Bob Geier

    And yet you have to confront the success of religious teachings in things like ending slavery in the U.S., or supporting the labor union movement in Poland and the Eastern Block. So while you may choose not to think they apply, the evidence suggests otherwise.

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Invisible_Pink_Unicorn Anna

    LOL, and if all they did was pray, I don’t think anyone would care. The problem comes when they try to use their religion to prevent people from having equal rights.

  • Anonymous Atheist

    The US is importing priests from Africa too these days…