Conservative Catholics treat their faith like a game. We love our father. It makes no difference who the man is who is filling that role at the moment. “Il papa,” we call him in Italian. The dear Holy Father of Catholics the world over is, by definition, Catholic to the optimum degree. Others may aspire to be so Catholic, but they will necessarily fall short or overshoot.
To be “more Catholic than the pope” is bad, even on Catholicism’s own terms. It means you’re trying too hard. The only alternative — and the more common approach, because it’s easier — is to be a little complacent. “Don’t be a backseat driver,” we say. “The Holy Father is guided by the Holy Spirit and knows what he’s doing. Trust him.” Then comes that moment when we find it too hard to pretend any longer that we don’t notice that the route the pope is taking to get to where we thought we were supposed to be going is awfully unusual.
That’s when the game begins. We his loyal children, we conservative Catholics, must spring into action to try to explain to ourselves and to everyone else why certain apparent contradictions between traditional Roman Catholicism and the up-to-date Brussels Catholicism that is ascendant under this pontificate are in truth only windows onto the intricate complex coherence of our beautiful faith. To think with the mind of the Church, you see, we must step outside the conventional left–right binary of politics in the modern world. Let us be receptive to the surprises that the Holy Spirit is accomplishing for us through this highly exceptional successor of Saint Peter. Sometimes the Holy Father takes the scenic route for a reason. Let us explore together what that might be. Will we accept his invitation to enter into his journey?
The synod on the family started in earnest today at Vatican City and promises to advance the ball for lifestyle libertarians, who probably won’t cross the goal line — blessings on the Pill, cohabitation, same-sex unions — though they have the momentum to enter the red zone. By this time next month, the boundaries within which sexual expression is, in the Church’s judgment, pleasing to God are more likely to be blurred than clarified.
Halfway through the preliminary synod (the extraordinary synod, for those of you who speak Catholic) last October, suspicions that it was rigged were inflamed and largely confirmed. Thanks to Vatican journalist Edward Pentin for blowing the lid on much of that. The men who managed and manipulated last year’s meeting are back and have doubled down on the rigging.
This time, synod fathers won’t even vote on any propositions. They’ll just talk among themselves for a few weeks. Then a committee of ten prelates will write and issue a final report — Italian journalist Marco Tosatti thinks that a committee of about 30, most of them Jesuits, may have begun writing it last month — that, in theory, reflects the consensus in the synod hall. They’re on the honor system. The committee is stacked, with few if any clear proponents of the idea that, because the world these past couple of years has been made to wonder whether Holy Mother Church is preparing to step out and finally join the sexual revolution, now would be a good time to affirm orthodoxy.
Forty-nine percent of American Catholics who support same-sex marriage think the pope does too, according to a recent survey by the Public Religion Research Institute. Well, the 49 percent should know better, says the conservative Catholic committed to papal maximalism. But they don’t know better. Anyone interested in clearing up their confusion? The one who created it, perhaps? The faithful turn their lonely eyes to you, Holy Father.
Steve Skojec at the Catholic website One Peter Five describes the current pontificate as a Rorschach inkblot onto which different people naturally project conflicting currents of thought and wishful thinking. “It is one of the cleverest devices of the Modernists (as they are commonly and rightly called) to present their doctrines without order and systematic arrangement, in a scattered and disjointed manner, so as to make it appear as if their minds were in doubt or hesitation, whereas in reality they are quite fixed and steadfast,” Pope Pius X observed in 1907 in his encyclical Pascendi Dominici Gregis (Feeding the Lord’s flock).