Basic Rule of Thumb for Papal Controversies

Popes virtually never actually say something that can’t be squared with the Tradition.  Just about the last time it happened was the monothelite heresy, when Honorius expressed some incautious opinions in a private letter.  Beyond that it’s a pretty rare occasion.

And yet, there are frequent panic attacks about the Pope throughout the past 40 years.  Not just this one.  Ever since Popes became a mass media phenom (basically with JPII) there have been Reactionary freakouts about the Pope just about being on the imminent edge of quite very possibly betraying the Tradition.

JPII was somehow screwing everything up with World Youth Days and being a rock star, and welcoming break dancers and Assisi Peace Prayers and opposing the war and opposing the death penalty.  Benedict was likewise screwing things up with the unapproved pieces of Caritas in Veritate, and opposing the death penalty and saying use of a condom was not always and everywhere a ticket to hell.  And now, Francis is causing tons for freakouts with his interview and various other words and deeds.  He will cause a lot more.  And *none* of it will actually be unorthodox or incompatible with the Tradition.  It will just be offensive to Reactionaries.

Of course, not *everything* the Popes have done had led to Reactionary bedwetting about the imminent death of papal orthodoxy.  Sometimes, the freakouts come from the left.  So when the pope reaffirms that the Church can’t ordain women, still defends innocent human life, still affirms the integrity of marriage and the family and so forth (and the left panics that the Pope “hates” women and gays and minorities and wants everybody dead from AIDS) the same people that were freaking out about the heterodox Pope are suddenly complaining about how the MSM and the liberal elite totally misunderstand the Pope (and talking about how the dissenters need to be kicked out and the Church purged and purified and shrunk to exclude these enemies within).

The lesson to be learned from this is not “The Popes are unpredictable and mercurial and can’t trusted” but “When the Pope articulates parts of the Tradition Reactionaries like, the cry from Reactionaries is that the media does not understand the Church’s teaching and dissenters should be kicked out.  However, when the Pope articulates parts of the Tradition Reactionaries don’t like, the cry from Reactionaries is that the Pope is a garrulous old fool  and egotist whom  the NY Times are both radically misunderstanding and understanding perfectly, because he is selling the Church and True Catholics[TM] down the river. (It goes without saying that the critic spouting off about the heretical Pope is neither garrolous nor an egotist.)”

For a huge number of Catholics, the last thing the Pope is, is a teacher, and certainly not a teacher imparting new ways of thinking to the faithful.  Not “new teaching” mind you.  Old teaching–apostolic teaching–to believers who have no intention of allowing the gospel to impinge on their political categories, slogans, shibboleths and bumper stickers.  A huge number of Catholics don’t want the Pope to be a teacher.  They want him to be a flag.

At present, the Left is waving him as a flag, having totally misunderstood him to somehow mean that the Church is now blowing off the Pelvic Issues.  But the Reactionaries are doing the same thing, taking for granted that the Left’s read on him as finally embracing heresy as they have perpetually panicked would happen.  Neither the Times crowd nor the Reactionaries are listening to him, hearing him, learning from him.

My prayer is that we will actually listen to him.  He has very important and beautiful things to say to us and I am deeply grateful to God for him and for the Tradition that, believe it or not, he is articulating, not perverting.

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