Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri at the Holy See Press Office on Oct. 2, 2019.
(File photo, CNS/Paul Haring)
I remember once attending a retreat in Rome. It was meant for “Catholic professionals” but as the participants gathered around the room — a group of Vatican employees, Catholic journalists, and employees at Catholic NGO’s — one person remarked, “It looks like this is more aimed at professional Catholics.”
We all had a chuckle.
Still, it is worth considering: Does the Church spend too much time fiddling about with “professional Catholic” concerns?
Using the term broadly, “professional Catholic” can include the full-time amateurs that proliferate on social media. The easiest way to spot a professional Catholic is to bring up Amoris Laetitia: If they have heard of it, there is a 60 percent chance they are a professional Catholic; if they have an opinion about it, that rises to 80 percent.
Before Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio was elected to the See of Peter, he gave a speech at the conclave where he complained about a “self-referential Church.”
In this speech, the future Pope Francis warned there are “two images of the Church,” with one that “evangelizes and comes out of herself,” and the other that was a “worldly Church” that “lives within herself, of herself, for herself.”
Yet the image of the “worldly Church” can seem different to the “professional Catholic” – of which the clerical caste is the example par excellence.
Although the pope has admirably emphasized the peripheries, and urged shepherds to get the smell of their sheep, he has also sometimes made decisions that seemed to stem less from the cries of the marginalized than from the complaints of the rectory.
In the first year of his papacy, Francis stopped the practice of granting the honorary title of “monsignor” to most diocesan priests not working at the Vatican. It is true the granting of the title was often given to careerist priests and more often bestowed because of dollars raised as opposed to souls saved, but for the average Catholic in the pew, it was just a nice thing to have happened to their priest, and maybe he got to wear a neat outfit every once in a while. There was no groundswell of rage from the pews against giving the title to some priests (which was unique to the honorary prelate in English, but is the honorific given to all bishops in most Romance languages).
However, how and why certain priests got their “monsignor” was a ripe topic of gossip in rectories, and among the “professional Catholic” class.
Such “professional Catholic” ire also permeates the reception of Francis’s Traditionis Custodes, which severely restricts the usage of the 1962 missal, properly known as the Traditional Latin Mass.
The vast majority of Catholics probably are at best vaguely aware that the TLM is still a thing, and certainly have no strong feelings about it.
However, every single professional Catholic does. In fact, one’s position on the TLM is the best way to sort the various factions of the professional Catholic class. Even if the professional Catholic says he or she is neutral on the Latin Mass, it is a matter of active disinterest as opposed to uninterest.
For millions of Catholics around the world who find comfort in the traditional Latin Mass, the fights of the rectory and professional Catholic class have once again struck them at home.
Other groups have also been accused of damaging the unity of the Church, including the Neocatechumenal Way and other lay movements, but although the pontiff has sometimes called them out on this, he hasn’t used the sledgehammer against them.
Why? First of all, because most lay movements are careful to always praise the sitting pontiff and not imply he is a heretic. Secondly, although many lay movements might claim to be a superior expression of the Faith, they don’t generally claim — not in words — that other Catholics aren’t really Catholic.
In the wake of Traditionis Custodes, there has been a lot of justified hurt within the Traditionalist community. There have also been a lot of tenuous claims: The current Mass is “defective”; young people prefer the Latin Mass (“Look at our large families!” is a frequent cry, but it’s a boast one rightly hears from other quarters as well, from Regnum Christi, to Taize, the Charismatic movement, the aforementioned Neocatechumenal Way, and just about every other intentional community, good or bad); we are the only true Catholics; and various personal attacks on the character of the pope.
These reactions aren’t the angry recriminations of a spurned lover, they were par for the course from the Traditionalist movement for decades. Critics will say, “only a small minority,” but it rankles when other people act as if they were better Catholics, and as though all others — including most priests, bishops, and even popes — aren’t as Catholic as they should be.
It is the kind of thing that really gets them mad in the rectory.
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