The crisis of liberal Catholicism under Francis

Pope Francis

You might think that progressives would be rejoicing under the current pontificate. Instead, they are fretting about the future, writes Matthew Schmitz in The Catholic Herald.

Even as Pope Francis wins the applause of the world for giving Catholicism a friendlier face, critics have started to grumble. On social media and in opinion columns, they have drawn up a list of grievances. While they approve of his pastoral outreach, they are concerned that he is leaving the Church unprepared to face the challenges of our age. They admire many of the men he has promoted, but fret that he has also empowered bishops who want to lead the Church on a dangerous, radical course – and may well do so once he departs.

No, these critics aren't the conservatives whose complaints have become a familiar feature of the pontificate, but liberal Catholics whose initial enthusiasm is now curdling into concern, even alarm. Three years after his election, The Tablet has decided that Pope Francis' reform program is "rapidly becoming overdue." Robert Mickens, the veteran Vatican correspondent, writes in the National Catholic Reporter that "many reform-minded Catholics have again become quite worried about the future direction of their Church."

Vito Mancuso, a former priest and protégé of the liberal Italian lion Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, shares their fears. "Two diametrically opposed forces are intensifying within the Catholic Church," he warns us in a recent interview in La Repubblica. Opposed to the innovators like himself are those who "want to return to the 'sound tradition,' something especially prevalent among young priests."

Mr Mancuso believes that if Francis does not act more decisively, and soon, he risks being no more than "a shooting star." After his death or retirement, the College of Cardinals could elect a pope who would end the flexible pastoral approach and begin making straightforward affirmations and condemnations. They particularly fear the election of Cardinal Robert Sarah, a man who does not seem much interested in flattering the sensibilities of educated Westerners. He appears in their nightmares with the name Pius XIII.

Such a reversal has happened before. In 1973, at the unusually young age of 36, Francis – still known as Jorge Mario Bergoglio – was named head of the troubled Jesuit province of Argentina. His charismatic personality and popular touch drew young men to the order but alienated the Jesuits clustered around the Centre for Social Research and Action. They desired a more structural approach to Argentina's political problems and a more intellectual perspective on the Catholic faith.

READ MORE

Liberal Catholicism's unexpected crisis (The Catholic Herald)