National Catholic Reporter
John L. Allen Jr. | Nov. 1, 2013 All Things Catholic
An old joke tweaking life in church circles goes like this: A dad is sitting in his living room when he hears a ruckus upstairs. He goes up and is startled to see the kids sitting in a circle on folding chairs, screaming their lungs out at each other: “You’re an idiot!” “You’re completely wrong and I can prove it!” and so on.
The father steps in and demands to know, “What in the world is going on here?”
“Ah, don’t worry, dad,” one of the kids says. “We’re just playin’ church.”
However middling it may be as a punch line, the joke captures something real. Perhaps because religion is about people’s deepest passions, it seems to breed division almost as reliably as devotion. …
During the John Paul and Benedict years, one byproduct of the emphasis on Catholic identity under those popes was the emergence of a caste of self-appointed guardians of loyalty who ran around “outing” bishops, parishes, schools, hospitals and so on that they felt were insufficiently Catholic. Critics derisively dubbed them the “orthodoxy police,” concluding that in at least some cases, this was mean-spirited and reflected an untoward lust for judgment.
One wonders if we’re witnessing the emergence under Francis of an equal-and-opposite form of the same impulse, which we might term the “enlightenment police” — people taking it upon themselves to pronounce whether someone is sufficiently humble, collaborative, forward-thinking, etc., to claim consistency with the direction being set by the new pope. …
On the other side of the equation, there are several constituencies in the church feeling angst over aspects of the new pope’s direction, including:
* Some pro-life Catholics, who worry that his inclination to dial down the volume on abortion, gay marriage and contraception risks unilateral disarmament in the culture wars;
* Doctrinal purists, who think his shoot-from-the-hip style courts confusion on church teaching;
* Liturgical traditionalists, who don’t see him fostering the same reverence for the church’s worship they associate with Benedict XVI;
* Political conservatives, who fear that his emphasis on the social Gospel could shade off into an uncritical embrace of the agenda of the secular left;
* Church personnel, especially in the Vatican, who are weary of hearing the new boss take potshots at them because they don’t see themselves as careerists or lepers infected with the trappings of a royal court.
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