What Color Are the Pope’s Shoes? And Other Pressing Ecclesial Questions

What Color Are the Pope’s Shoes? And Other Pressing Ecclesial Questions April 6, 2013

From much of the news and punditry that has followed the election of Pope Francis, both Catholic and secular, one can easily gather the impression that the future of the Church hangs on the pope’s choice of footwear.  This is hardly an exaggeration, but looking beneath the surface, perhaps it’s not quite as absurd as it sounds: for many Catholics, fixation on stylistic minutiae is a projection of larger hopes and fears for a new pontificate (a phenomenon that certainly did not begin with Pope Francis).

Among the reactions to Pope Francis thus far, I have observed two general conflicting assumptions, each with its own internal split: first, that he is leading us into a sweeping ecclesial revolution (proclaimed with either horror or vindictive glee); second and contrarily, that he is essentially no different from previous popes (proclaimed with either determined cynicism or dogmatic triumphalism).  Neither assumption does him justice, because they both make him into a polarizing figure.  The truth is more likely somewhere in between.  No pope is identical to his predecessor in the experiences and approaches he brings to the office, but for this very reason, the differences can be seen as complementary.

I suspect that those who are inclined to read grandiose ecclesiological statements into how the pope chooses to accessorize, whether their preferences lean toward the elaborate or the austere, may be missing a broader and more personal trait that has less famously characterized Jorge Bergoglio since well before we began getting to know him as Pope Francis.  The way he chooses to live is defined by an inclination toward downward mobility, simple living, or what Mennonites would call “living more with less” – from his now-famous choices of transportation and residence right down to, yes, his shoes.

It does not appear that he intends for this inclination to be read as a repudiation of Pope Emeritus Benedict or any other papal predecessors.  Rather, I see it as simply a reflection of who he is, perhaps partly attributable to his Jesuit formation or to a Franciscan charism.  Indeed, Francis’ recent visit to Benedict in which he embraced him as a brother shows his respect for his predecessor as well as his personal humility.  His decision to celebrate Maundy Thursday Mass at a juvenile detention center has been widely discussed, both positively and negatively, as a break from tradition, and it was indeed unprecedented as a papal action, but it was also in continuity with his personal custom as Archbishop of Buenos Aires – a part of his long-standing witness of ministry to the marginalized, now more visibly amplified in his role as leader of a global Church.

For those who enjoy obsessing over the external details (and I admit that I myself have not always been entirely above the fray), I don’t mean to spoil the fun.  Just remember to keep it in perspective.  Ultimately, the future of the Church will depend much less on the presence or absence of a mozzetta or the placement of altar candles than on the extent to which we are inspired by the Holy Father’s example of humility and service toward a closer imitation of our Lord.

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  • Julia Smucker
  • Mark VA


    I enjoyed your post enormously, since I was schooled in the philosophy of “less is more” plus “God is in the details” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mies_van_der_Rohe), and have become attached to these solid virtues. Also sat in many of his Barcelona chairs – less is more is very comfortable.

    However, I also appreciate what can be achieved with “more is more”, especially when it is done at the genius level – the results are breathtaking:


    I subscribe to this, and perhaps you’ll agree: these are different styles, and each human nature needs them both, in some kind of a customized mixture, to remain healthy and productive spiritually and intellectually.

    • Julia Smucker

      In terms of artistic and liturgical styles, yes, I agree that such balance as you refer to is healthy, and there is a definite part of me that is drawn to liturgical grandeur. In terms of lifestyle, I think Pope Francis challenges all of us to be content with what is enough, and not to assume we are entitled to more than we need. And of course these things are not mutually exclusive. Any truly inspired liturgy should inspire us to love our neighbor, and sometimes this is done very effectively by pulling out all the stops to tell the story well.

      • Mark VA

        You are right Julia, we’re talking about standards of beauty, not crass materialism. Now, since Sinner down below decided to lighten the highfalutin discussion a bit, let me offer this very old joke:

        “A newly rich industrialist hires the best architect in the land to design for him a gilded dwelling worthy of his new status. After a short audience, the architect meekly asks: So, sir, in what style would you like your residence to be built? Romanesque, Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo, Palladian, Mannerism, Modernist, or perhaps even Eclectic? To which the industrialist replies – Oh, I don’t know, whatever, I have enough money, build in all of them.”

      • Knower

        Regarding concern about “external details” generally, and liturgic details specifically: Traditional ethics has — wisely, in my view — depicted any human virtue as a high peak of excellence between two opposed troughs of vices. Here, a healthy and sensitive concern for good taste opposed on the one hand to a vice of insensitive vulgarity, and on the other, to a vice of over-fastidious attachment to small physical details: insensitive vulgarity tends to make molehills out of mountains, while over-fastidiousness tends to make mountains out of molehills.

        • Agellius


          Well said!

  • As a gay man, I think the rejection of aestheticism by the recent “straight popes” (John Paul and Francis) is downright homophobia. The signal I’m getting, at least, is that it’s less about poverty or humility and more about being butch. While Paul VI’s disaster in this area can perhaps be excused as kitsch or high camp, John Paul and Francis discarding lace and stuff seems, to me, nothing other than a suspicion of all things “sissy.” I much preferred it when a Liturgy Queen was in charge.

    Dorothy wore her ruby red slippers over the rainbow. So should the Pope.

    • To clarify: maybe some straights are unaware, but Benedict was really something of a love-him-or-hate-him Gay Icon. The villainous diva or diva-ish villain, for many. Francis is making it clear he wants to be no such thing.

      I for one was heartbroken when he came out onto that balcony. Refusing to don the full drag was bad enough, but he didn’t even deign to sing the showtune which so obviously suggested itself.

      I cried for Argentina when he didn’t tell her not to.

      • Julia Smucker

        If it makes you feel any better, he did effectively say this:

        • Yes, and at least if I understood the Italian correctly, he did dedicate his papacy to Madonna. So that’s one ray of light, I suppose.

          • Julia Smucker

            I got a good laugh from this, thanks! I guess we’ve entered a new era in papal humor: out with Dorothy, in with Evita!

      • re: A Sinner [April 7, 2013 6:13 pm]: C’mon, you and I knew that Pope Francis is straight 23 nanoseconds after he walked out onto the loggia without the mozzetta and surplice. Nothing wrong with that, but Pope Francis, unlike beloved Pope Benedict XVI, will never understand the way in which the wardrobe, ecclesiastical vestments, paraments, and accoutrements work together to project papal power. In the meantime, let’s deal.

        In all seriousness, the “Pope Benedict Catholics” / “Pope Francis Catholics” divide is not really about sexual orientation, although that is a minor valence. As you have noted A Sinner, the real division among faithful over the choir and liturgical vestments of popes has to do with different understandings of humility. A Sinner’s theory that the regal vestments are actually a humiliation resonates with this traditionalist. A pope wears sumptuous garments to constantly remind himself and and the faithful that he is not only the vicar of Christ but also a man, who is at once the Lawgiver and a great sinner.

        Pope Francis’s refusal to wear the regal vestments strikes me as a cop-out, a false humility. His excuse to not dress as a prince is that he has come to serve to the poor. Must he not humble himself first with the sartorial burdens of office before he can help the poor? Pope Benedict assumed this burden. Did he derive pleasure from regal garments? Perhaps, but through his desire he demonstrated to the world that he is fallible and a sinner.

        I must pledge fealty to Pope Francis, but so far his “humility” rings hollow to me. Would not his mandatum demonstrate more humility if he arrived in full choir. “Here I am, burdened by office. And still, I arrived, to be critized but also to serve the poor.”

        • To get serious for a minute: I think one can tie the sexual orientation divide over these questions exactly to the “real versus apparent humility” understanding of symbolism, though. I’m still trying to think it through, but I think it has something to do with the experience and metaphor of the closet. I think straights (straight men especially) have a harder time understanding the nuances of paradox in symbolism, and so want everything just “straight-forward” (pun intended). Someone’s suggestion in another thread that the Pope should wear a crown of thorns or a cross on his back instead of the tiara is an example of this sort of oppressive literalism. Gay men, I think, understand better the dynamics of irony in affect and “the mask” that we all wear, etc etc, about following social scripts and the role that “costume” (literal and figurative) plays in all this. He may not intend it to be, but Francis’s “style” is extremely heterocentric, in this sense. He has this great affinity for the marginalized and peripheral, but approaches them in a way that is very much from the perspective of a straight white male, and thus ultimately patronizing, because the marginalized don’t want your condescension!

        • Must he not humble himself first with the sartorial burdens of office before he can help the poor?

          No, he would not have to. Obviously you have not taken in the implications of the new papal name.

        • Julia Smucker

          I have to say, in retrospect, the whole cross/crown idea was a little over the top. That’s what happens when I think out loud.

          That said, I still don’t get the argument that ostentatiousness is really humility because it inspires ridicule. Doesn’t it rather depend on the basis for the ridicule? It’s one thing to be ridiculed for living and proclaiming a gospel that the world does not understand, and quite another to be justly ridiculed for failing to live the gospel that one proclaims.

          For the record, I would not apply the latter criterion to papal frills such as the mozzetta. I do, however, see the praise Pope Francis has received for his lived humility (going well beyond his austere fashion sense) to be a justified response to a compelling witness, and not a sign of false humility – especially because in some cases, notably his choice of venue for Maundy Thursday, it has earned him some ridicule of the former type as well.

          I suppose some would rather he sing, “I come from the people! They need to adore me, so Christian Dior me from my head to my toes….” But that’s a matter of taste.

        • I guess what I mean by connecting it to the experience of “the closet” is that, for example, the reason stuff like high camp and fabulousness (and even extreme transgression like drag) became associated with gay culture is as a reaction to narratives of assimilationism or bourgeois acceptability. We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it, etc etc. Triumphalism in the aesthetic sphere isn’t pride in the sense of the opposite of humility. Sometimes, rather, it’s Pride in the sense of the opposite of SHAME.

          But the same thing can be said of Catholic identity. The ostentatious is there, in a way, to say “We’re Catholic, we’re fabulous, and their ain’t nothing wrong with that!” Since the rise of Anglo-American hegemony, at least, Catholicism has been a sort of “religious queerness” (at least, in those parts of the world, in that narrative), viewed askance, suspected of all sorts of “effeminacy” by the Puritanical crowd in our frills and lace and celibate male clergy.

          So it raises serious questions about a sort of institutional shame when instead of flaunting Catholicism at its most aesthetically Wild(e)…the Pope sort of emphasizes this sort of toning down or assimilationism. But if you’re going to tone things down, you might as well just wear a suit and tie. Why is a mozzetta “too much” but a white cassock with watered-silk sash okay? Compared to secular dress, they both look silly. And that’s just the thing: you cannot have modest pageantry, because the whole point is being over-the-top. Otherwise just assimilate entirely and don’t do it at all. Half-hearted drag is just sad and pointless.

          When I saw a Pope who (as “silly” as the big hats or fur capes can sometimes be) was willing to be over-the-top with Catholic (and thus transgressive) signifiers…it’s sort of like when I see a drag queen as a gay man: I personally have no interest in dressing up like that and even roll my own eyes, but the idea of the symbolism in someone else is nevertheless comforting to me for the very transgression of it. Being at the “extreme” end of the symbolic spectrum, asserting itself SO far “out there” at the periphery, it “creates a space” for everything else that is less extreme (but still not totally conformed to normativity).

          The Pope is, by definition, supposed to be that “extreme” locus or pole of Catholic identity, obviously. If not the Pope, then whom? (“Is the Pope Catholic??”) In a sense, the Pope needs to be (aesthetically) an eccentric caricature of all things Catholic in order to “make space” transgressively for everything else Catholic in the world.

          By attempts to “tone down” Catholicism’s aspect of “religious queerness”…however, you wind up not only assimilating in terms of religion, but also insulting the idea of queerness in general, in any sphere of life. And hence why I feel a little bit of homophobia behind all this.

    • I think the rejection of aestheticism by the recent “straight popes” (John Paul and Francis) is downright homophobia.

      Isn’t that a bit much? I mean, a cleric might go for liturgical maximalism without necessarily swishing it up as a liturgy queen, or being gay. A perfectly straight man could be high church, ultra-liturgy, pomp and circumstance, bells and smells all the way. Conversely, one who goes for simple liturgy isn’t necessarily trying to go butch or call out “sissies”; maybe he just likes it like that, and maybe he’s even gay himself.

      To put it another way, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar!

      • No, not this one. They they seem to alternate, and this one is as mind-numbingly straight as they come. I mean, did you see the Whispers in the Loggia article about how he can’t even keep his shirt tucked in properly?

        Like I said, I know that not everyone in the tribe has good taste: sister Paulus Sextus unleashed the Novus Ordo on everyone, and that liturgy might as well have been designed by John Waters! But usually when we go for that sort of camp, it’s an ironic statement.

        In fact, I’ve always suspected the Pink Flamingos Liturgy of 1970 was a big joke among the lavender mafia that went too far over appletinis one night. It’s rather hilarious that Frank seems to take tacky polyester vestments so seriously. I don’t think they were ever MEANT to be taken seriously.

        (I’ve also got it on good authority that “On Eagle’s Wings” was churned out by the Divine Miss M as a spin off of her more famous “The Wind Beneath My…” If I’m remembering my ecclesiastical history correctly, she was of course declared divine by an infallible decree at Vatican II: Electric Bugaloo.)

        • Paul VI Montini was NOT responsible for the Novus Ordo, as it turned out; I cannot imagine him presiding over a “folk mass” in the United States. He presumed–wrongly, and tragically–that the “Spirit of Vatican II” would also include the kind of creativity in liturgy that T.S. Eliot spoke of in “Tradition and the Individual Talent.” He apparently thought that the sheer ENERGY of the American and European Catholic traditions of the first part of the Twentieth Century would suffice to create liturgical beauty. Sadly, it didn’t, I agree with you. Popes Ratzinger and Wojtylwa did absolutely NOTHING to improve upon the situation. Your German sissy had no taste for anything but classical music. His mozzettas and ruby shoes were garish and vulgar.

        • But isn’t Catholicism a little garish and vulgar? Isn’t that part of it? Personally, I found the ruby shoes disappointing if only because they weren’t adorned with the traditional cross of gold! But the mozzetta, that connects him with every portrait of a Pope painted since the Renaissance, including all the ones that there are such juicy stories about.

          Whatever Paul VI’s intentions, I stand by thinking the current appropriations of his time are hilarious. It’s like…if people started taking runway fashion “seriously” and wearing all these outlandish outfits on the street. Obviously, the whole point of the runway shows aren’t that you’re supposed to actually dress like that. It’s that you take this color or that fabric or this “idea” and incorporate it into more normal stuff. Instead, when it came to liturgy, the poor gullible folk at the bottom in Catholic culture seem to have actually taken it seriously!! And now there are felt banners and altar girls everywhere! It’s like a sort of bizarre inversion of the “clerical fashion show” scene in Fellini’s “Roma”…

    • Paul VI had better, and quieter “gay” taste than Benedict XVI Ratzinger, whose kitschy, baroque splendor smacked of the vulgar pretensions of German bourgeoisiedom. Paul VI Montini RESTORED the place of contemporary art to religious devotionalism. (He, after all, developed the Vatican art galleries’ sections devoted to “contemporary religious art,” which Pope Wojtlywa slighted so much. I know this, because I was in it, in both 1975 and last summer, and it’s much diminished from then.) Pope Wojtylwa, however, did have good taste in modern popular music and dance. Except for classical music, Ratzinger’s “taste” was all in his mouth!

      • Well, as someone who prefers English Gothic stuff, I say a pox on both their houses. I hate modern kitsch, and I hate baroque. Don’t get me wrong there! My prayer is with A.W.N. Pugin: “May that pagan dome [of St. Peter’s] collapse” so that, presumably, it could be replaced by a proper Victorian Neo-Gothic jewel-box.

        Personally, if I had to choose between the “two evils,” I’d still go with Benedict’s Bavarian baroque kitsch over Paul’s avante-garde. At least the former makes people think of a fairy-tale type past rather than, you know, outer space. Just as kitschy maybe, but if something is going to have a “taste”…I’d rather it be saccharine than bitter. I’d rather Disney Princess chic than Mars Attacks!

        • elizabeth00

          Pugin’s work is beautiful, and I don’t use the word lightly: I sit inside it every week. A Sinner, I have something of a love-hate thing going on with your posts. Shoes, pallium, mozzetta, surplice…have it when you can and enjoy it, but when you can’t have it, isn’t there something within it that is durable and generous? Doesn’t the tension between office/role and personal failing all concentrated in the single person have some kind of translation to a two-person encounter? There are all kinds of games that can played, we all know this – making other people some kind of a foil for yourself. There’s the self-consciousness of symbol and, beyond that, the not-knowing of symbol. Acting and deeper acting. But in God there is only one game, played myriad ways, as many varieties of humility as there are people who have lived. Isn’t God exactly the kind of space where you can be yourself without competing for meaning at every turn?

          You know, I think my corollary to all these accoutrements and their tense paradoxical meanings (I have great respect for them) is the woman with the alabaster jar, who wipes his feet with her hair. Not her pallium, or her shoes, or her mozzetta, or alb or surplice, or any other piece of liturgical linen you care to dredge up from the books or the sacristy, but HER HAIR. Herself and the most precious thing she carries with her. She got past the point of over-thinking things, and that’s a grace I pray for myself, and any other willing takers.

    • I will make this prediction to you, Sinner, and you may hold me to it, in the future: I predict that Pope Francis Bergoglio will be able to show more love and compassion and honest friendship for “gay” Catholics, lay and clergy, than Benedict XVI Ratzinger contained in his little finger.


      THIS is a picture of a “Servant of the Servants of God,” and all “gay” Catholics who are “out” and who aspire to possess the “heroic virtue” of chastity will be loved, esteemed and welcomed PUBLICLY by him. Want to bet?

      • Honey, I’m not looking for welcome. I don’t need some old straight man to “welcome” me. Part of Benedict’s charm was exactly the drama of the turmoil of self-loathing contrasted with the pathos of the way he’d stare at Gorgeous Georg with such…frustrated renunciation.

        At least, on the symbolic level. On the actual political and pastoral level, I don’t doubt you for a second there. Francis may bring a lot more rapproachment with the gay community.

        But if it’s a choice between an affinity expressed in conscious explicit gestures…and one on the level of symbol and gnostic mysteries and Jungian archetypes that speak more to the subconscious…I think that’s a very hard choice! Benedict spoke much more to my gut through his sort of “coded” gestures than Francis’s straight-shooting ever will.

        • You are really over the top, sir–but in the most FABulously interesting way. Whether or not I agree with you, I am constantly entertained by what you write, and, usually, as with Peter Paul, I find it thought-provoking. Good for you for being so assertive and “traditional” at the same time. I’m betting that you have MUCH better “taste” than the ruby-slippered one you seem to admire so much.

        • Jordan

          vinceretur = Jordan

          A Sinner [April 8, 2013 12:34 pm]: Part of Benedict’s charm was exactly the drama of the turmoil of self-loathing contrasted with the pathos of the way he’d stare at Gorgeous Georg with such…frustrated renunciation.

          I don’t see the Pope Benedict and George Gaenswein friendship as anything but a pure and chaste love between men. This is holy. Remember the “twinned” saints such as Sergius and Bacchus?

          During Pope Benedict’s pontificate, Josef and Georg spent nearly every waking moment together. Supposedly Georg Gaenswein wept when he had to leave Pope Benedict all alone in Castelgandolfo and return to Pope Francis’s detail. Given that Pope Francis is str8 and not really attuned to the Josef/Georg relationship, he probably doesn’t understand the urgency that Georg Gaenswein accompany Pope Benedict every single day until the pontiff emeritus dies. Please, Pope Francis, return Msgr. Gaenswein to P.E. Benedict’s side. I can’t imagine what it would be like for Pope Benedict to die without Georg holding his hand and speaking to him in their shared Bavarian dialect. da perenne gaudium.

        • I agree with Jordan, but I’d add that that doesn’t make Josef Ratzinger any the less “same-sex-attracted.” Think what a model of “heroic chastity” for 10% of the world’s population, Benedict XVI Ratzinger might have been had he publicly accepted this part of his nature.

        • Jordan

          re: dismasdolben [April 9, 2013 2:26 pm]: dismas, I’m not suggesting that you think this, but queer activists who try to “pin the Roy Cohn” on Pope Benedict aren’t playing fair. Roy Cohn purposefully destroyed other peoples’ reputations to hide his own homosexuality. We’ll never know how Pope Benedict felt about being gay, but he didn’t slander and defame others to cover up his sexuality. One might suspect that Pope Benedict’s homophobia was almost exclusively internalized.

          As for the CDF “Halloween Letter” of 1986 (think “intrinsically disordered”): many LGBT Catholics have held this letter up as an example that Cdl. Ratzinger/Pope Benedict “is a hater”. Yes, Cdl. Ratzinger can’t hide behind a Nueremberg defense. Still, I have some pity on the man. It’s pathetic in some respect that Cdl. Ratzinger had to disassociate his sexuality from doctrinal statements.

  • Bob

    I was worried when I found out Pope Francis was a Jesuit (because Jesuits tend to be effeminate snobs). But I think a like Francis.

  • Gerard

    The Vatican II-era Popes do seem to fall within two categories personality-wise, with John XXIII, John Paul II, and Francis on one side and Paul VI and Benedict XVI on the other. (Not sure where to put John Paul I). ‘After a fat Pope, a lean pope’ definitely applies, but I think Julia’s first comment about extraverts is more directly relevant than the high church/low church stuff. Joke-cracking, crowd-pleasing extraverts have alternated with shy, rather sensitive introverts. The aesthetics of liturgy and dress seems to me to be secondary – otherwise you could hardly bunch Paul VI and Benedict XVI too closely together. Unsurprisingly, only the Popes in the first, extraverted category have achieved real popularity with the masses (although personally I’m very fond of both Paul VI and Benedict XVI). Not sure how closely the extraversion/introversion thing actually tracks with sexual orientation – I’m a gay introvert myself, but surely there are plenty of shy, introverted heterosexual men, although matey, hail-fellow-well-met style extraversion is more standard.

    • Not just post-Vatican-II, but going back to at least Pius IX. He can be grouped with Pius X and Pius XI, whereas they alternated with the much more effete Leo XIII, Benedict XV, and Pius XII.

      It doesn’t track perfectly as you say. Take John Paul I, indeed. Sorta strikes me as a gay extrovert. And John XXIII was certainly extroverted and matey and hail-fellow-well-met, but he also knew how to wear the tiara and ermine, and I have a hard time reading his sexuality (I think a eunuchy overweight build can mask that either way for some guys). Was he just jolly, or was he merry? It’s hard for me to say.

      • I didn’t see this until after I’d posted the other comment, but my take is “jolly”. Like I said below, Italian culture is much more comfortable with lots of things we’d tend to see as “unmanly”–what we’d see as flamboyance might just be vitality and expansiveness to an Italian. An elderly priest of my acquaintance, Father M., was in Rome at a Papal audience of John XXIII, and what he says is interesting. John is always spoken of as “good Pope John” and his humor and optimism are always stressed. Father M., though, said that the vibe he got when John entered the room was an overwhelming aura of authority–like general coming to review troops, or a CEO coming before a board of directors whom he knew how to handle with ease.

        You’re right about the build, though–another priest of my acquaintance, who is a dead ringer for Friar Tuck, is one of those in the “can’t quite tell” category, although I think I’d almost pin him as “asexual”.

      • Gerard

        Yes, it is a very marked pattern, isn’t it? Of the pre-Vatican II popes, Pius IX was a certainly a matey joke-cracker, at least when he was in a good mood; Leo XIII was a reserved aristocrat who spent his spare time writing Latin verse; Pius X was a tough, earthy peasant who, for all his traditionalism, apparently found the pomp of the Vatican burdensome; Benedict XV was another aristocratic diplomat; Pius XI was a blunt-spoken mountaineer; and Pius XII was another diplomat, gently aloof in private and with a rather theatrical manner when performing in public: .
        Do you think the cardinals have been doing this on purpose?

  • Do you think some of it may be cultural? I mean, think about it—Italians have always been all about the bella figura, and they’ve never had the notion of the arts as vaguely unmanly, as the Anglo-Saxons have. Look at John XXIII—reformer he may have been, and straight, and yet absolutely full-bore ritualist: tiara, fur mozzetta and camauro, sedes gestatoria, even liturgical gloves with coordinating ring. Paul I pass over as anomalous and John Paul I didn’t live long. But look at JP II.

    The Poles were a lot like the Irish—desperately poor, bitterly oppressed from pillar to post, relatively harsh environment. Therefore both cultures became very word-centric (look at all the great writers, poets, and Nobel laureates in literature from both countries) with almost zero visual arts. Thus, John Paul II, an author, philosopher, playwright, and poet with a “whatever” attitude to liturgy.

    Benedict: Well, all stereotypical stodginess aside, there always has been an undercurrent of camp and flamboyance in German culture (think Berlin in the 30’s and again in the 60’s, Cabaret, and Mike Meyers’s Dieter from Sprockets).

    Now admittedly Francis is ethnically Italian; but one thing Father Z. pointed out recently is that Jesuits, by and large, don’t really care much about liturgy much one way or the other. Over the years I’ve known two Jesuits very well (one is my spiritual director), three others moderately well, and several others in passing, and I’d have to say that sounds about right. I can praise the accomplishments of these fine men in many ways, but liturgy is not one of them. One of them, recently passed to his great reward, was notorious in our diocese for having done a children’s Mass dressed as Santa Claus (whom he strongly resembled) back in the 70’s or 80’s. I would, by the way, vouch for his personal sanctity and orthodoxy in all other ways, having known him quite well.

    Bob: Jesuits tend to be effeminate snobs


    As I said, I’ve known many Jebbies quite well. Out of the dozens of priests I’ve known over the last two decades, some I thought might be gay, some set the gaydar off, and one or two were so flaming that the gaydar exploded. One even left the Church and joined a schismatic sect and promptly set up with a “batushka” (an Orthodox priest’s wife is a matushka, “little mother”, and the priest is the batushka, “little father”. Except in this case). In any case, none of the gay priests were Jesuits, and none of the Jesuits I’ve known have struck me as gay or effeminate. I’d say they’ve struck me as less effeminate, on average, than priests I’ve known in general. It may be generational—all but a couple of the Jesuits I’ve known were over seventy—but I’ve never found them to be effeminate or queeny. The ones I’ve known haven’t struck me as snobby, either. Overly intellectual sometimes, perhaps; but not snobby. If anything, reverse snobby in a 60’s, countercultural, solidarity with the people way.

    • Jordan

      turmarion [April 8, 2013 4:35 pm] The Poles were a lot like the Irish—desperately poor, bitterly oppressed from pillar to post, relatively harsh environment. Therefore both cultures became very word-centric (look at all the great writers, poets, and Nobel laureates in literature from both countries) with almost zero visual arts. Thus, John Paul II, an author, philosopher, playwright, and poet with a “whatever” attitude to liturgy.

      Maybe. While the Irish were continually under threat from Scots landlords who tried to destroy the Catholic faith by force, the Poles actually rallied around Catholicism as a badge of identity. Despite a brief period of calvinization among 16th century Polish nobles, the Polish people as a whole never swerved from the Roman rite. Also, Poland has a very rich iconographic tradition. The Madonna of Czestochowa is the Queen of Poland, and has been for centuries.

      I’d say that JP II’s liturgical austerity had more to do with his papal priorities than his tastes. He was more concerned with evangelization, especially beyond the Iron Curtain. Pope Francis is not dissimilar in many respects, given that bling has taken a back seat to his promotion of awareness in the developed world about suffering and poverty in the developing world.

      and none of the Jesuits I’ve known have struck me as gay or effeminate.

      I take it you never went to a Jesuit university.

  • Brian Martin

    When a Pope pulls on a pair of blue jeans and Converse canvas Chuck Taylor High Tops and shows up in public one day, and has a self tie bow tie the next, my demographic will have arrived. (throw in pierced ears and some tats, and i’ll be totally cool with that) Until then…I much prefer the plain to the visual pomposity. One speaks to me of servant leadership, and one of out of touch clericalism.

    • Then why have liturgy at all??

      A pope or bishop are not a leader first and foremost. First and foremost they are an Icon. And you don’t make icons half-heartedly or out of cheap crap. Even when it’s an icon of the crucifixion it’s leafed in gold.

      • Brian Martin

        They are the living, breathing successor to St. Peter. By saying he is first and foremost an Icon, that would mean his actions are first and foremost symbolic rather than real. That would seem to fly in the face of Catholic Theology, for it would relegate whatever he says, including ex cathedra teachings as firstly symbolic. Tell me, how is a teaching “symbolically infallible”?

        • In orthodox theology, of course, this distinction between “symbolic” and “real” is rather false.

          The teachings of the Popes and bishops have their weight exactly because of their “iconic” role in the liturgy. The Pope or bishop is not first and foremost a “magisterium” who happens to also preform liturgy. They are first and foremost Christ the Head in liturgy, and from there their teachings and administrative jurisdiction acquire weight and legitimacy.

          The bishop is first and foremost a high Priest. His other powers come FROM this liturgical presidency, not the other way around. The Pope is infallible exactly inasmuch as he has the presidency (the liturgical presidency) of a given communion, the Roman communion, and can define the dogmatic boundaries of that communion.

  • Mark VA

    Quite a tour de force, Sinner – a sincere tip of the Traditionalist (a crumpled Chesterton) hat to you.

    Much of what you wrote is starting to make sense to me, after I’ve managed to rotate my conventional mental coordinate system counterclockwise a bit. I’ve never considered these aspects of the various papacies from this angle, but am glad you are willing to explain it.

    So, sure, OF can offer “conscious explicit gestures”, but what is that next to TLM’s lace…

  • Agellius

    A Sinner writes,

    “By attempts to “tone down” Catholicism’s aspect of “religious queerness”…however, you wind up not only assimilating in terms of religion, but also insulting the idea of queerness in general, in any sphere of life. And hence why I feel a little bit of homophobia behind all this.”

    come on, man. It’s not always about you. 🙂

    Personally I think it’s the Calvinist influence on the United States; and then the United States’ influence on Europe — and for that matter the whole world — that’s behind the “toning down”. There’s a lot about traditional Latin culture that has been “toned down” in recent decades, and for similar reasons.

    That being said, I like your analogy a lot. I agree that the Church should have the “we’re here, we’re queer, deal with it” attitude about its liturgy, costumes, architecture, etc. And for that matter its doctrine and its moral teachings.

    I think the Pope should accept the papacy with all its trappings, just as he received it, and not make it about himself. I feel like he’s a little too ostentatious with his lowliness, as if to say, “Hey! Look at me! I’m humble and I love poor people!” I get that he’s trying to set a good example. Then again, I’m not sure how good an example is set by parading his righteousness around for all to see.

    I believe C.S. Lewis said something like, you can be proud by constantly pointing out how great you are, but you can also be proud by constantly pointing out how lowly you are.

    • Julia Smucker

      I can’t help wondering if people said the same kind of thing about Jesus.

      I’m inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt that, from his perspective, it’s not about himself but about the people he interacts with, and especially about making the world take notice of the kind of people who are often not given much notice.

      • Brian Martin

        I’m with Julia. Agellius, if it is show, and not who he really is, then I’m with you, but if this is him being real…then keep it up.

        • Agellius


          No one can judge whether this is “really him”, least of all me. I am not accusing him of hypocrisy. My point is that the papacy is not supposed to be about him personally. I think that true humility would mean letting it be about the office. When he is constantly being the “un-Pope” — not living in the papal apartments, not wearing the traditional garb, etc. — he makes it about himself. Or at least, it can come across that way.

        • Julia Smucker

          To bring it back to what I said at the end of this post: if the pope’s example is inspiring people toward Christ-like humility and service, or causing us to question our own drive for over-indulgence, then it is a positive witness.

        • But one can answer with what I hinted at above: one can sincerely believe that the human spirit is better formed, and “inspired” in a way much less superficial and much longer lasting…by obscure symbolism which speaks directly to the unconscious, rather than by “obvious” example on the surface. There’s a reason we’re a Sacramental Mystery-religion and have always read the Bible topologically etc etc. It’s because symbolic literalism is not, in the end, all that powerful or lasting.

  • Kurt

    Keep that which reflects the beauty of holiness. Drop that which suggests a social hierarchy, social classes, temporal authority rather than pastoral care, etc.

    Oh, and restore the episcopacy to the pastoral leadership of some particular community of the faithful, not the Curial equivalent of a “GS” grade. Bishops are to shepherd a diocese. The Roman Curia should consist of deacons, the proper office for those in church administration.

    • Agree with you about the episcopacy, but when it comes to “social hierarchy, social classes, temporal authority”…those are all part of human life!

      Many a Saint has been willing to live like a poor peasant for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven they get a taste of in liturgy, the New Jerusalem where the gates are made of jewels, etc etc. But few of us are going to live in the mud like that just to get to a Republic of Heaven in the end. That vision is just NOT as motivating or inspiring.

      If heaven is like the Old Mass, I’ll do anything it takes to get there. If heaven is like Francis’s Novus Ordo…well, I’m frankly just not as motivated.

      • Kurt

        I would suggested that we will find in heaven that et antiquum documentum novo cedat ritui.

        • I didn’t mean literally, of course, but that, to paraphrase a friend, liturgy is supposed to reveal in our current sensual world the glory of the spiritual meaning. Of course heaven won’t be literally brocade and stained glass. But a meaning something like “maximal beauty and opulence and artistic skill and investment of communal energy and resources into worship” will be, and these are what signify that on earth.

  • Frankly, I predict that the “traditonalists” are NEVER going to become enthusiastic over this pontificate. Ya’ll had better read THIS.

    • Jordan

      re: dismasdolben [April 9, 2013 3:18 pm]: Eh, most of what’s in the ncreporter article doesn’t shock either mainstream conservative Catholics or rad-trads. It’s well established by now that Pope Francis doesn’t do bling, couldn’t really care about liturgy (and by extension the EF), and is on his way to breaking the most Vatican conventions in a single pontificate.

      The fact that Pope Francis shows solicitude for the poor (which is integral to the Gospels, though right-types invariably interpret his actions wrongly as “liberation theology”) is notable. Right now, I think most in the EWTN clique are rolling with Pope Francis simply because everything he’s done up to now fits their bill of “orthodoxy”, even if some squeamish noises are arising from the more hardcore areas of the peanut gallery. Now, if for example Pope Francis formally loosens the restrictions of Humanae Vitae to include condoms, watch the Catholic right go nutters.

  • Agellius

    A Sinner writes, “one can sincerely believe that the human spirit is better formed, and “inspired” in a way much less superficial and much longer lasting…by obscure symbolism which speaks directly to the unconscious, rather than by “obvious” example on the surface”

    I feel the same, I just didn’t know how to say it. : )

    This doesn’t mean the Pope can never give an obvious good example of humility and sympathy for the poor. He could live in the papal apartments but occupy only a small corner and furnish it very simply. He could invite people from poor parishes to a personal audience or a private Mass once a week. He could cut his personal food budget and give the excess to the poor (which no doubt he is doing). There are all kinds of ways he could do this kind of thing, without impoverishing the outward symbols of his office. The office is not *his*, after all, it’s *ours* (the whole Church’s), he’s just occupying it temporarily.

    St. Francis de Sales wrote (something like) that avoiding the sin of delicacy doesn’t necessarily mean eating only very poor fare. Rather, it means eating whatever is put in front of you, whether rich or poor, whether you like it or not.

    • Julia Smucker

      The office is not *his*, after all, it’s *ours* (the whole Church’s), he’s just occupying it temporarily.

      I agree with this statement, but I also wonder if, in some of his actions, Pope Francis is making the point that the office is not only “his” and “ours” but also “theirs” – that it’s for the sake of people on the margins of society, including people outside the Church. People like the youth at Casal del Marmo. I’ve been wondering, too, if there isn’t a sense of entitlement underlying the objections to his taking “our” public liturgy away from us and offering it to that little forgotten group of people, thereby privileging the underprivileged.

      • Brian Martin

        The reminder that the office is “his”, “ours” and “theirs” resonates with me. We are ever a Church at the Margins…when we are too accepted by “society” and too integrated into mainstream culture, it is likely we are not speaking and living in a way that is led first and foremost by our fidelity to God, and his teaching. Jesus said the primary commandment is to love.
        Agellius, the most I ask is that the Pope be Authentic…as in authentically present, being true to who he is.

      • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

        In the novel “The Vicar of Christ” about a fictional Pope who takes the name Francis, there is a marvelous scene in which a Cardinal declares (when confronted with papal actions he does not approve of): “He needs to remember that he is just the Pope; we are the Papacy.” Is life imitating art here?

    • I predict that his “innovations” are going to be far more creative than modifying Humanae Vita. He is, after all, a Jesuit–which probably indicates a subtle intellectual. I foresee the greater empowerment of women in the Church, for instance: cardinals’ hats for women who foreswear the sacerdotal role and bishoprics would NOT be uncanonical, although it would shock the “traditionalists” to discover that it isn’t. Public acceptance of “out” Catholics who professed chastity would not violate any of the Church’s teachings regarding sexual morality. Condemnation of death penalties and “pre-emptive” wars would be totally in line with his predecessors’ “development of doctrine.” More aggressive condemnation of “neo-liberal” capitalism’s exploitation of the natural world and of indigenous communities would be consistent with the encyclicals of previous pontiffs. “Tradition” will continue, but I predict that this Jesuit pontiff will be much more creative than his predecessors in updating it.

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