Over at the Catholic Herald, Matthew Schmitz, the literary editor for First Things, has a brilliant analysis of the plight of Catholic liberals.
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”.
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 Francis’s 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.
Francis does not challenge the teaching of his predecessors head-on. He insists that the norm still stands even after he includes every case in the exception. What was once simply an absolute principle is now discussed in relative terms, and the terms are so relative that it is possible even to insist that the rule remains absolute. The resulting “pastoral solutions” infuriate traditional Catholics, who sense the inconsistency, and fail to satisfy liberals, who want a more thoroughgoing revolution. Écrasez l’infâme!
Liberal Catholics are left with a delicate and tedious task. The doctrine of infallibility limits even those who would call it into question. Peter can wink, nod, nudge or fall silent, but he cannot contradict himself. Francis knows this well.