Pope’s foot-wash a final straw for traditionalists
Pope Francis, right, looks up to the Crucifix during the Passion of Christ Mass inside St. Peter's Basilica, at the Vatican, Friday, March 29, 2013. Pope Francis began the Good Friday service at the Vatican with the Passion of Christ Mass and hours later will go to the ancient Colosseum in Rome for the traditional Way of the Cross procession. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
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’s 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 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 modernizing reforms.
“The official end of the reform of the reform – by example,” “Rorate Caeli” lamented in its report on Francis’s Holy Thursday ritual.
A like-minded commentator in Francis’s native Argentina, Marcelo Gonzalez at International Catholic Panorama, reacted to Francis’s election with this phrase: “The Horror.” Gonzalez’s beef? While serving as Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Francis’s efforts to revive the old Latin Mass so dear to Benedict and traditionalists were “nonexistent.”
In addition to refusing the traditional red velvet cape upon his pick as pope March 13, Pope 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. In the days since, he has called for “intensified” dialogue with Islam – a gesture that rankles some traditionalists because they view interfaith dialogue as a sign of religious relativism.
This year’s Good Friday procession at Rome’s Colosseum, which re-enacts Jesus Christ’s crucifixion, was dedicated to the plight of Mideast Christians, with prayers calling for an end to “violent fundamentalism.”
Francis, however, chose to stress Christians’ positive relations with Muslims in brief remarks at the end of the ceremony. He recalled Benedict’s 2012 visit to Lebanon when “we saw the beauty and the strong bond of communion joining Christians together in that land and the friendship of our Muslim brothers and sisters.”
Francis also raised traditional eyebrows when he refused the golden pectoral cross offered to him right after his election by Monsignor Guido Marini, the Vatican’s liturgy guru who under Benedict became the symbol of Benedict’s effort to restore the Gregorian chant and heavy silk brocaded vestments of the pre-Vatican II liturgy to papal Masses.
Marini has gamely stayed by Francis’s side as the new pope puts his own stamp on Vatican Masses with no-nonsense vestments and easy off-the-cuff homilies. But there is widespread expectation that Francis will soon name a new master of liturgical ceremonies more in line with his priorities of bringing the church and its message of love and service to ordinary people without the “high church” trappings of his predecessor.
“The pope does not need anybody’s permission to make exceptions to how ecclesiastical law relates to him,” noted conservative columnist Jimmy Akin in the National Catholic Register. But Akin echoed concerns raised by canon lawyer Edward Peters, an adviser to the Vatican’s high court, that Francis was setting a “questionable example” by simply ignoring the church’s own rules.