Foot soldier’s 1st battle
Vatican City: Pope Francis has won over many hearts and minds with his simple style and focus on serving the world’s poorest, but he has devastated traditionalist Catholics who adored his predecessor, Benedict XVI, for restoring much of the traditional pomp to the papacy.
Francis’ decision to disregard church law and wash the feet of two girls — a Serbian Muslim and an Italian Catholic — during a Holy Thursday ritual has become something of the final straw, evidence that Francis has little or no interest in one of the key priorities of Benedict’s papacy: reviving the pre-Vatican II traditions of the Catholic Church.
One of the most-read traditionalist blogs, “Rorate Caeli,” reacted to the foot-washing ceremony by declaring the death of Benedict’s eight-year project to correct what he considered the botched interpretations of the Second Vatican Council’s modernising reforms.
“The official end of the reform of the reform — by example,” ‘’Rorate Caeli” lamented in its report on Francis’ Holy Thursday ritual.
A like-minded commentator in Francis’ native Argentina, Marcelo Gonzalez at International Catholic Panorama, reacted to Francis’ election with this phrase: “The Horror.” Gonzalez’s beef? While serving as the archbishop of Buenos Aires, the then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s efforts to revive the old Latin Mass so dear to Benedict and traditionalists were “non-existent.” Virtually everything he has done since being elected pope, every gesture, every decision, has rankled traditionalists in one way or another.
The night he was chosen pope, March 13, Francis emerged from the loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica without the ermine-rimmed red velvet cape, or mozzetta, used by popes past for official duties, wearing instead the simple white cassock of the papacy. The cape has since come to symbolise his rejection of the trappings of the papacy and to some degree the pontificate of Benedict XVI, since the German pontiff relished in resurrecting many of the liturgical vestments of his predecessors.
Francis also received the cardinals’ pledges of obedience after his election not from a chair on a pedestal as popes normally do but rather standing, on their same level.
Francis may have rubbed salt into the wounds with his comments at the Good Friday procession at Rome’s Colosseum, which re-enacts Jesus Christ’s crucifixion, praising “the friendship of our Muslim brothers and sisters” during a prayer ceremony that recalled the suffering of Christians in the Middle East.
On Thursday at the Casal del Marmo juvenile detention facility in Rome, where the 76-year-old Francis got down on his knees to wash and kiss the feet of 12 inmates, two of them women. The rite re-enacts Jesus’ washing of the feet of his 12 apostles during the Last Supper before his crucifixion, a sign of his love and service to them. The church’s liturgical law holds that only men can participate in the rite, given that Jesus’ apostles were all male. Priests and bishops have routinely petitioned for exemptions to include women, but the law is clear.
Francis, however, is the church’s chief lawmaker, so in theory he can do whatever he wants. The inclusion of women in the rite is problematic for some because it could be seen as an opening of sorts to women’s ordination. The Catholic Church restricts the priesthood to men, arguing that Jesus and his 12 apostles were male.
Francis is clearly opposed to women’s ordination. But by washing the feet of women, he jolted traditionalists who for years have been unbending in insisting that the ritual is for men only and proudly holding up as evidence documentation from the Vatican’s liturgy office saying so.
In the face of the pope doing that very thing, many conservative and traditionalist commentators have found themselves trying to put the best face on a situation they clearly don’t like yet can’t do much about lest they be openly voicing dissent with the pope.
The Rev. John Zuhlsdorf, a traditionalist blogger who has never shied from picking fights with priests, bishops or cardinals when liturgical abuses are concerned, had to measure his comments when the purported abuser was the pope himself.
“Before liberals and traditionalists both have a spittle-flecked nutty, each for their own reasons, try to figure out what he is trying to do,” Zuhlsdorf wrote in a conciliatory piece. —AP