R.I.P. “Reading Francis Through Benedict”
One must appreciate the effort made by some to offer what at the beginning appeared a reasonable key of interpretation of the new successor of Peter.
The Church is inherently conservative, and Popes tend to be even more conservative. It was, therefore, absolutely understandable one would consider the novelties of the Bishop of Rome – which, one must admit, the man did not lose a second in showing – as the quirks of an old man, possibly meant to make him popular and possibly meant to make the Church, as a whole, fashionable; quirks that would, it was reasonable to assume, not alter anything substantial in the way the Church understands Herself, with merely the addition of poverty rhetoric, and a generous dollop of Peace 'n Justice.
Soon, though, it became clear this interpretation was more and more difficult to defend: when the refusal to wear the Mozzetta or the red shoes was followed by a serious liturgical abuse on Maundy Thursday, it was clear we are in front of a man who considers himself above Canon Law; a man unable to understand that even if he is the Bishop of Rome and can therefore change some of the rules, he is nevertheless bound by an elementary sense of propriety – and by the necessity to give a good example – to be the first one who abides by them as long as they are there. The oh so humble Bishop was already resembling an Oriental satrap.
With the weeks, it became worse. It was clear to everyone the current Bishop of Rome was insistently and ostentatiously distancing himself from his predecessor. The examples are too many to be all recollected here: from the choice of transport to the refusal to spend the summer in Castel Gandolfo, from the obsessive search for wheelchairs in front of the cameras to the dismal habit of uncontrolled off-the-cuff observations the world absolutely had to be informed about, this man showed more and more clearly he wants to be seen as entirely different from Benedict, totally focused on himself, and completely detached from everything his predecessors have done. Jorge was at this point already madly in love with Francis, and the entire planet had to be informed of the fact. This alone is as Un-Benedictine as can be, and every hope Francis might still be like Benedict – when he did not lose a single occasion to show how different he is – was already appearing the preserve of pathological optimists.
The last weeks have, though, put very thick nails on the coffin of the “reading Francis through Benedict” narrative. The unspeakably arrogant refusal to even suspend such a disgraceful individual as Monsignor Ricca was followed by an even more arrogant, and even more astonishing, downplaying of sodomitical activity as some sin of the youth – as if the man had been chasing skirt in his early Twenties and before his vocation rather than being an inveterate sodomite uncaring for scandal probably until exposed, and certainly well in his Forties and whilst being a Monsignor – and by the mocking dismissal of the existence of the “gay lobby” of whose existence he himself had informed the planet.
At this point, any reading of Francis through I do not say Benedict, but even Paul VI is utterly untenable. On the contrary, this is a man so different from Benedict in absolutely everything – including intellectual and, as is now abundantly evident, moral stature – that every reading of the one through the others is as absurd as the attempt to give a Catholic interpretation of Mein Kampf.
Francis is, sees himself, and wants to be seen as in head on collision with Benedict. He lives in a completely different dimension, in which not even the concept of the most basic decency could be said to be shared with Benedict's worldview. This is the reality on the ground, and has been from the habemus Papam. We have been slow to get the message, because the message is so shocking that it takes a while to even persuade the faithful of it. But this is where we are, and the Bishop of Rome's invitation to “make noise” – when seen in conjunction with his blatant liturgical abuses before and after his accession to the throne – clearly show this man is positively encouraging a revolutionary movement from the grassroots, and countless liturgical and otherwise abuses meant to make the Church more “modern” and “relevant”; that is, meant to sell Her to the world; lock, stock, and barrel.
Of course, Francis will always be, at times, in agreement with Benedict. It's not that he is denying the Trinity, or the necessity of the Sacraments. If Benedict say that two and two is four, Francis will necessarily agree. But this is also where the similarities end, because truly, Bishop Francis could not have troubled himself more to stress how different he is from Pope Benedict; and, I must add, from all the Popes before the latter.
Seriously: if Francis can be read through Benedict, Hitler can be read through St. Thomas Aquinas.
It just doesn't work.