The Radical Traditionalists and Francis Derangement Syndrome
The RadTrad Heresy grows exponentially with its Jansenistic emphasis on the pernicious nature of the human spirit, its legalism, its deep suspicion of human sexuality, and its hatred of the Pope. It has chosen as its spokespersons the three musketeers of clericalism: Cardinal Raymond Burke, Archbishop Vigano, and Bishop Athanasius Schneider–all three of whom criticize the Pope non-stop to the point of opposing him openly. The RadTrad’s Francis Derangement Syndrome is worth exploring and the insights we glean will tell us why Francis is the Pope we need for our times.
The growth of the RadTrad Heresy runs parallel to the focus of Francis’ pontificate. Remember the dour man from Argentina elected to the papacy? He was not known as a smiling ecclesiastic and, in fact, often appeared as a typical frowning cleric. That all changed once he took the name of Francis. Suddenly as Pope, he seemed to drop years of age and become a laughing, smiling pontiff with a focus on mercy not judgment. Francis Derangement Syndrome began the day he said, “Who am I to judge?” in answer to a question on homosexuality. The opposition took shape in the Year of Mercy 2016, when the pontiff declared that the Church would emphasize mercy over judgment.
Papal Emphasis on Mercy is The Root of Criticism of Pope
Of all the things Pope Francis has done, this emphasis on mercy had most enraged his opposition. To it, they have attached any hint of a liberal movement in the Church. To it they have attributed the supposed laxness of Francis to Eucharist for the divorced and remarried. To it, they have pinned a perceived weakness for idolatry in the Pope’s outreach to Amazonian indigenous peoples. In fact, mercy is seen as simply a code word for laxity.
Though the above named prelates are often quoted as expert critics of Pope Francis, the RadTrad Heresy is primarily an effort of alt-right laypeople to bring down a pontiff. These laypeople, mostly American, many of them converts with a degree or two in theology are amazingly uneducated in their analysis of Francis. This proves once again that a simply theological degree cannot substitute for a long term immersion in Catholic culture, history, and ecclesiology. Their obtuseness in the area of Scripture is appalling, for if there is one thing Pope Francis emulates perfectly it is Christ’s attitude to the outcast and the sinner.
Francis Opts for the Sinner and the Marginalized
What most sets Francis’ pontificate uniquely apart from others is (in Latin American terms) a preferential option for the sinner and the marginalized, not just in society but within the Church itself. Francis actually believes that Jesus associated with outcasts and sinners because he loved them, wanted to be around them, and saw them as the future strength for the movement that would eventually become the Church.
The Pope: More Like Christ than his Critics
Christ’s condemnation of scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees was based on their hypocrisy in living only the legal requirements of the Law, flouting its spirit, yet demanding that lesser mortals live that Law perfectly. Jesus didn’t love the marginalized because they sinned, but because they were authentic, knew they were flawed, but responded to his description of the Father and the mercy offered to a humanity desperately in need of salvific love. In one of the recent critiques of Francis, someone pointed out that the difference with Jesus was that he associated with sinners but left them as converted saints. Yeah, right. Jesus never demanded repentance before he associated with sinners, nor did he demand instant sainthood or perfection in following him. He simply gave mercy which in itself was a gentle challenge to repent and walk in the light. But mercy was never used as a club or even a velvet hammer to coerce repentance.
Mercy as Orthodoxy
Francis is similar to Christ in this respect. Whenever someone criticizes him as a lax liberal, it is good to remember that the Pope is neither a conservative or a liberal–he is a Jesuit. That is not meant as a humorous remark. He possesses the peculiar but admirable Jesuit trait of understanding human weakness while still holding to orthodox belief. Sure there are some Jesuits who go off the rails. That religious order is known for walking on the edge of things for the greater honor and glory of God. But true Jesuit piety and action keep the balance between mercy and orthodoxy. In fact, mercy, properly understood, is Christian orthodoxy since at its base it preaches a loving Trinity immersed in the world dedicated to redeeming a fallen but still inherently good humanity.
The Pope We Need: Embracing Joy Over Fear
The RadTrads, in their hatred for Francis, offer a joyless experience of a Christianity frightened at the direction the world is taking. One only has to pay attention to their apocalyptic warnings to recognize the fear present within their presentation of the Christian faith. Pope Francis, on the other hand, hasn’t stopped smiling and laughing since he became pontiff. The smiling face he offers the world, a face full of the offer of mercy to anyone who wishes to receive it, is the true face of Christianity. Francis is the Pope the world needs. Thank God we have him.