Lying about Francis to Spite Benedict – UPDATED

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“Dear Lord, how come nobody ever gets offended by Anglican and Orthodox trappings?”

Several days ago I read a Facebook post by a Deacon I respect (no, not Deacon Greg, although I of course, respect him!) and in his post this cleric rather disappointingly — and, to my thinking, unwisely — recounted a malicious little tale about our new pope, to the applause of others.

He told the story approvingly, and was glad when it was greeted with applause among his flock; he seemed to have no sense of the cognitive dissonance that resounded throughout the tale and, ironically, made Pope Francis — its dubious ‘hero’ — look small and mean.

The story, the supposed reaction to the story and the fact that someone was happy to put it on Facebook bothered me a great deal; being sick and in the midst of trying to cover, in my meager way, the on-going goings-on here in Rome, I decided to leave my suspicions unspoken and let the corrosive little tale die.

The stupid and the shriveled want it to live, though, and so it will, in the little whispery corners where spite and malice get clung to by gollums in need of a ‘precious.’

By now you’re dying to know the story, but I will not repeat it, because that would be a backward obedience to the father of lies. 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.

The people still repeating this story need to ask themselves if anything we have seen of Pope Francis, who is preaching and teaching us about the underused, under-lived concept of tenderness toward each other, would really — in the first moments of his papacy — side-swipe an underling and devalue his purpose for the thrill of making a spitefully caustic remark among the men who had just elected him to be the spiritual leader of the church.

Nothing we’ve read about Francis, past or present, suggests that he is bitchy, spiteful, small or wounded. Quite the opposite; Francis showcases qualities that are manly, straightforward, large-hearted and secure — much, much, too secure in himself and in his Lord to need to debase himself, or an assistant; much too humble to offer snark and smackdown toward the man whose own heroic act of self-abnegation gave the Holy Spirit room to move when the church’s back seemed against the ropes, and put it back into the center of the ring, quickly renewed.

No, the snippy little remark we have seen attributed to Francis and repeated in sad places (to, apparent applause in sad pews) seems like the fantasy of a soured spirit — the thoughts of a craven kind of person — perhaps a Cardinal whose own career is cornered and against the wall, imagining what he would have said and done had he been elected, and loving it so much, he just has to share it.

Perhaps the sort of man who spent the first few days after the papal election swanking around Rome, and social media, dropping remarks that made him sound like a 14 year-old fashion reporter settling scores with an editor who banished him from further attempts at his own designs. So small and venal he was even content to misrepresent the point of the traditional red shoes of a pope — meant to symbolize the blood of martyrs that has propelled the church forward, all these centuries — by defining them down as a meaningless affectation.

Yes, that’s small and bitchy. From a “prince” of the church.

I don’t much care whether the pope wears red shoes or black. I’m a girl who ones one pair of shoes, and they’re crocs, so I clearly think a man should wear what is comfortable, for him. Like Pope Francis, I am not impressed with lace, prefer a pithier liturgy and don’t care whether a pope wears black pants that peak through his white robes, or whether or not he appears with a mozzetta on his shoulders or a warm camauro on his chilly, grey or balding, head — the deposit of faith does not rest on papal trappings. I have no issue with the fancier vestments, which recall Christ’s Kingship or the simpler ones that recall his Humanity — it’s all valid; it’s all good and it all has its time and place. But I care deeply when people who should know better, in both mainstream and church venues, ignore what is meaningful within those trappings, in order to foment division, because for them division is always more interesting than unity.

I’m weary of the non-stop chatter we’ve seen about papal vestments, which have never been about the man, but about the Office;
“Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”

Every Peter is led where he does not want to go and faces the upending crucifixions, real or metaphorical, of a world disoriented. Whether he follows the Lord in symbolic red shoes that pinch and hurt his feet (and possibly contributed to a bad fall) or in comfortable black shoes meant to travel the meaner streets in search of sheep, the job is hard; the trappings are accepted or rejected as suits the work he is understaking and he deserves better from his “princes” and his clerics than the spreading of malicious fantasies that only serve to shrivel, not to enlarge, the heart of the church.

Pray for the inventor of this tale, whoever you may think he (or perhaps she) is. His (or her) soul is warped and in trouble. And perhaps those so eager to believe and to repeat the slander ought to put their motives through an examen in honor of our Jesuit pope, and ask themselves whether they served their best selves, or Christ, or the church, by so enjoying the symptoms of sickness.

Let me end on a better note by saying how impressed I am with all the Catholic writers on Patheos (and even some non-Catholics bringing such interesting perspective). It’s really cool to see so many people writing so thoughtfully, honestly and passionately and getting tuned in to the clean-up and renewal amid us and before us. I love these guys.

UPDATE I: Seems yes, it was a lie

UPDATE II: I am tired of talking trappings but others are not and this piece is pretty fair and balanced about it.

Looking at Passion Sunday in light of our Jewish roots.

Yes, I know that seems unrelated, but really, it’s all of a piece.


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