The fact of the matter is that Pope Francis has lost the trust of an awful lot of people who were doing their best to give him the benefit of the doubt. It was unlikely that he was ever going to please the radical traditionalists, but it is worrying that he seems to be losing the support of a good number of sensible conservatives and moderate Catholics.
If the reports of the synod squabbles are correct one wonders if the relationship of trust between him and his bishops and cardinals is also shaky.
Everyone views Cardinal Kasper as “speaking for the pope” and the Holy Father has not seen fit to correct that gaffe on Kasper’s part. After Kasper’s faux pas about the Africans, has the Holy Father also lost the trust of the Africans? Are the Africans suspicious of Pope Francis? They have no time for the “homosexual agenda” and if Cardinal Napier of South Africa is their voice, the situation could be very worrying.
Pope Francis is an intelligent.popular and hard working pope. He has a deep spirituality and speaks the plain truths of the gospel with simplicity and charm. His personal example is attractive and powerful, but either through a misadventure or well meaning activity, too many are now increasingly distrustful of Pope Francis.
Some believe the soap opera quality of the two-week gathering, with conservatives complaining of a plot to stifle their voices and liberals grousing about a lack of nerve, suggest Francis has let loose forces he can’t control.
“I don’t think he’s much of a strategist,” one cardinal told Crux Sunday night. “I used to think there was a plan underneath the chaos … now I’m wondering if the chaos is the plan.”
Others believe that this synod was the opening salvo in Francis’ vision for the future. He now knows where the bishops of the world stand, they say, and perhaps what he needs to do to bring them along.
Either way, it is true that for some Catholics there is a trust issue with Pope Francis, and as always happens in a situation where trust has broken down, they are alert and watchful, suspicious even, and when this mentality sets in it is almost impossible to resolve because the next stage is a kind of conspiracy theory mentality in which everything is viewed through the lens of suspicion. When the not-trusted person says something which should please the wary party, their suspicions are not diffused, but increased because they believe the suspect is being duplicitous–saying one thing but meaning another–buttering up his enemies with smooth words while planning their defeat behind the scenes.
If this analysis is correct, then Pope Francis will find his planned reforms of the church even more difficult to engineer. Rival camps may emerge–both sides plotting their strategies and planning their battles. If that happens either the rest of his papacy will be a long drawn out battle or he will emerge as a kind of lame duck pope….a popular but ineffectual figurehead.
Both of these options would be unfortunate because the Catholic Church needs the proper kind of reform and our leaders need to work together with the Holy Father to bring about the right changes at the right time.
Our best response is to pray for the Holy Father and remember that what goes on in our own home, our own parish and our own prayer life is, in many ways, more important than the machinations in the Vatican.
I can advance in prayer, compassion, mission and ministry through my hard work by God’s grace. So can you.
We’d best get on with it.