VATICAN CITY (AP) — 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’ 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 Catholic 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’ Holy Thursday ritual.
“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.
“People naturally imitate their leader. That’s the whole point behind Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. He was explicitly and intentionally setting an example for them,” he said. “Pope Francis knows that he is setting an example.”
The inclusion of women in the rite is problematic for some because it could be seen as an opening of sorts to women’s ordination. The Catholic Church restricts the priesthood to men, arguing that Jesus and his 12 apostles were male.
“If someone is washing the feet of any females … he is in violation of the Holy Thursday rubrics,” Peters wrote in a 2006 article that he reposted earlier this month on his blog.
In the face of the pope doing that very thing, Peters and many conservative and traditionalist commentators have found themselves trying to put the best face on a situation they clearly don’t like yet can’t do much about lest they be openly voicing dissent with the pope.
By Thursday evening, Peters was saying that Francis had merely “disregarded” the law — not violated it.
The head of the society for South America, the Rev. Christian Bouchacourt, was less than generous in his assessment of Francis.
“He cultivates a militant humility, but can prove humiliating for the church,” Bouchacourt said in a recent article, criticizing the “dilapidated” state of the clergy in Buenos Aires and the “disaster” of its seminary. “With him, we risk to see once again the Masses of Paul VI’s pontificate, a far cry from Benedict XVI’s efforts to restore to their honor the worthy liturgical ceremonies.”