In the coming weeks, our Diocese will find itself in a very unusual situation. We will be experiencing a sede vacante on two counts, with the See of Rome and the See of Rochester both lacking an episcopal head. This will, undoubtedly, give rise to much uncertainty and, more unfortunately, much idle speculation.
I don’t like speculation for two reasons: there is seldom any substance to it, and there is generally nothing one can actually do regarding it…that is, unless you have a parish bulletin in which to offer thoughts and reflections. This is precisely what Fr. Peter Clifford at St. John of Rochester has done in the recent bulletin, which can be found here. He presents his parishioners with a brief overview of the conclave process, which is really rather informative and insightful. However, he digresses very quickly. I quote:
“In my view, many have felt left out or put out of the conversation. We have lost enough members. In order to bring Catholics back to the church and to keep them, he (the new pope) must find a way to speak to the middle. I do not suggest altering teaching or position as much as the means and way the message is delivered. In many ways, John XXIII was as traditional as John Paul II, but his style, his smile and seeming easy way won hearts. He needs to be approachable. The grand and monarchical papacy is in the past. (Benedict XVI is a truly humble man, but he did not look it in red designer slippers, ermine capes, golden roziers [sic])…I cannot say what it would look like, but it needs to change.” (I’ll not comment at length about the gross disrespect shown by Fr. Clifford, even implicitly, to His Holiness.)
I could go on for several paragraphs, but I’ll keep it short. Is it not interesting, let alone self-contradictory, that a priest in the Church feels that he is capable to judge the nature of Pope Benedict’s reign, implying, despite the nice “humble man” intro, that His Holiness was not, in fact, humble? What is more humble – to reign gently and with beauty, serenity, and dignity, or to criticize pontifical ceremonial half a world away? One could easily make the same passive-aggressive snipes about wealth and pomp given the generous amounts St. John’s receives in its collections each week. However, to base a judgment on Fr. Clifford’s tenure there, his staff, the various committees and organizations, etc., based solely on outward signs is shallow and damaging. Fr. Clifford says we need to appeal to the middle – does criticizing and showing disrespect for the Pope achieve this? I think not.
My second point is this: note that our more “progressive” brothers and sisters are very free and liberal in their critiques, but lack the vision to see the actual solution to these alleged issues. He writes, “I cannot say what it would look like.” If he cannot say, cannot solve, cannot provide genuine insight, he ought not to attempt it. Surely, we all critique and nitpick, but to do it and not follow through, to leave important matters such as the governance of Holy Mother Church open for discussion and dialogue, is not a responsible method of appealing to the middle. (And he is assuming that the “middle” is right on all counts. That’s an assumption I’m not willing to make, personally.)
I find it rather entertaining that some of our fellow Catholics feel that current trends, fads of passing decades, carry some weight of infallibility that allows us (demands of us?) to change the Church. We are Catholic Christians, whose faith is universal, not only in location, but in time. “The grand and monarchical papacy is past,” perhaps, Fr. Clifford, but this does not mean that it is now time for a “grand and monarchical” priesthood to take to the stage through opinion-riddled bulletin articles. Idle speculation damages the Church, and has done so since the earliest days, and will do so till the end of time. This is not some sort of blank check for “forward-thinking” action. “The Council reoriented our style of church away from monarchy to collegiality.” Where, then, is the “collegiality,” when we presume to correct our venerable Holy Father because of his apparel?
Pray for the Pope. Pray for our priests. Pray that the Holy Spirit may touch the hearts of those who are worried and uncertain about the coming weeks and months. Remember: the gates of Hell shall not prevail.