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Hating the Pope?

What a terrible thing for a supposedly faithful Catholic to hate the pope. Is hate too strong a word? How terrible then to dislike the pope, to be angered by the pope, even suspicious of him. Read certain Traditionalist blogs and websites in recent days and you see all of this.

Of course many were concerned and even a little let down when the name Bergoglio was announced. We’d hardly heard his name before. From Argentina? That’s interesting but isn’t that one of the lands of liberation theology? And wasn’t he the progressive candidate against Ratzinger in 2005? That charge turns out to be true and not true at the same time. True that he was their candidate. Not true in that he wanted no part of it.

I was at the United Nations when the white smoke rose, at a panel convened by the Holy See to discuss violence against women. The conference room was packed to the rafters with radical feminists who always show up at these events to take a poke at the Catholic Church. When the white smoke rose, the phones of faithful Catholics lit up all over the world with the news. And in that small U.N. room, too, you could see a few happy faces including the beaming nuncio.

Many of us convened to the U.N. cafeteria, fired up our computers, and waited for the announcement Habemus papam. The wait was excruciating. I was with a large group of students from Steubenville, and when Bergoglio was announced our excitement palpably abated. There was confusion in our ranks. Bergoglio who?

Then we started getting emails from friends pulling quotations from Bergoglio’s past fights on life and family in Argentina. They were very strong, indeed. No one thinks the Bishop of Rome would be anything other than orthodox on the key issues of the day; but will he be outspoken? Clearly this new pope would be.

When Francis bowed his head and asked for our blessing the students wept openly and blessed him and prayed for him right then and there. The LGBT’s sitting all around us knew exactly what was happening – and were appalled.

Immediately though, Traditionalist friends and their blogs lit up with complaints. One friend on Facebook warned that Bergoglio “was not friendly to TLM,” the sine qua non of Traditionalism. (For the uninformed, TLM refers to the traditional Latin Mass, something that was given universal allowance by Benedict XVI.) Pope Francis’s supposed coolness toward the TLM has been repeated endlessly since his elevation.

Besides the Tridentine Mass, the Trads are also on high alert for any other thing that smacks of what they consider Modernism. Is the thurible shaken the requisite number of times on the right and on the left?

           The TLM, ad orientem

Taylor Marshall – a Catholic convert and former Episcopal priest who worked for a time at the Catholic Information Center in Washington D.C. – has become chancellor of Fisher More College in Texas and a prolific author and popular blogger in a traditionalist though quite sensible vein. On March 14, only hours after Francis’ election, he posted this on Canterbury Tales:

Pope Francis hadnt been elected for more than two hours and the vitriol began to spew forth in the comment boxes of this blog and others.Many from the traditionalist crowd reacted against Pope Francis with words that were downright offensive. If one of my sons spoke like that about a priest (or any older man, for that matter), my boy would have a sore backside and a long stay in a dark room.

Within minutes of His Holiness appearance on the loggia, some trads began an online campaign claiming that he was a persecutor of orthodox priests in Argentina. Then they said he forbade the Latin Mass in his diocese. Then they were mocking him for not wearing the scarlet papal mozzetta. They also expressed dismay over how His Holiness prayed in Italian and not in Latin. Next, they expressed their alarm that he took off his stole immediately after the blessing. Then they made much ado over how the tapestry unfurled over the balcony wasn’t that of His Holiness predecessor. And these comments arent even the worst of it. I dont even want to list some of the other things they have written online.

Mr. Marshall was right; the blogs and comment boxes were full of panic, anger, even hate, and it was not just the denizens of comment boxes who had become unhinged. Only hours after Francis was announced, Remnant TV interviewed John Rao, a frequent contributor, who is also one of the most prominent leaders in angry Trad circles. Rao said, “It doesn’t look good. It looks like it (the election of Francis) was the result of a political machination on the part of one or the other elements within that faction of the College of Cardinals that is wedded to the so-called spirit of the Council however they interpret that and they don’t care if the Church dies, so long as that spirit is maintained.”

Princes of the Church don’t care if the Church dies? Let this particular Traditionalist mindset sink in for a moment. What hubris, what lack of faith. What a dissenter’s attitude in claiming the personal authority to pronounce on what’s authentically Catholic.

When I was a Traditionalist, we had great disdain for John Paul II. I almost missed his entire pontificate – until I left their ranks. They liked Benedict better because of the blessing he conferred on the Tridentine Mass and traditional practices in general. But now they say that Benedict thwarted the Holy Spirit by resigning and that the elevation of Francis is the Holy Spirit’s punishment for that act.

What a blessing it was on that day to be with faithful Catholic students who wept with joy at the sight of our new Holy Father and how heartbreaking are those who were angry at the sight of him, are angry still, and always will be.


Austin Ruse is the President of the New York and Washington, D.C.-based Center for Family & Human Rights (C-Fam), a research institute that focuses exclusively on international social policy. The opinions expressed here are Mr. Ruse’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of C-Fam.