To reflect on Francis, I believe we have to examine the central conflict of the Catholic Church over the past 50 or so years – that of Vatican II. I have read some of the Vatican II documents, but not all of them. As a Protestant, I believe Vatican II could have done some beneficial things, such as:
1. Implementing a more collegial model of governance as opposed to the Pope being God’s vicegerent on Earth, as it were. My understanding of Vatican II is that this type of collegiality was proposed, but not really implemented.
2. Bring church services to the people in their own language without destroying the beauty of the liturgy. One of these aims was achieved, as Mass began to be celebrated in the vernacular, however, this went hand in hand with a massive attack on the forms of the liturgy by a leftist wave that was also sweeping over the Mainline Protestant denominations.
The tidal wave of change that swept over Western culture during the late Sixties culminated in the Sexual Revolution as well as revolutionary changes to “how we do church.” The thing about this that I don’t think has been adequately explored yet is how changes which seemed positive at the time (the rise of Calvary Chapel type groups and more heartfelt worship as opposed to dead formalism) went hand in hand with entirely ruinous changes pushed by leftist heretics. So you had something of a worldwide invigoration of some churches via the charismatic movement, while at the same time you had the unorthodox ruining the Catholic Church and the Protestant Mainline Churches.
Both the heretics and the charismatics shared some outer trappings, such as guitar driven worship and informal dress. In liturgical churches, this wave of change resulted in an attack on beauty. Ugly churches were built, sanctuaries were stripped of beauty and Catholics ditched the musical heritage of the West for guitar at Mass. Again, similar forces were scraping away Protestant history, but many of the guitar music folks in Protestant circles were very orthodox doctrinally. What you saw in Catholic circles was a simultaneous push for an end to the ban on birth control, opposition to abortion, a desire to ordain women, as well as ugly liturgy, a collapse in those seeking ordination and bad doctrinal innovations, all in the name of Vatican II – at least that is my read on it. So many of the folks who wanted what I as a Protestant would want: married priests, vernacular liturgy, collegiality and so forth, were the same people who wanted abortion, divorce, the pill and that whole package.
You can imagine the utter revolution and disruption that these changes caused for faithful Catholics. Tolkien is a good example:
“Toronto broadcaster and author Michael Coren (J.R.R. Tolkien: The Man Who Created The Lord of the Rings) says that in the 1960s, the author “expressed displeasure at Vatican II” and its sweeping reforms of Catholic life and liturgy. Tolkien, who had had his hero Aragorn declare that “good and ill have not changed since yesteryear” felt that “suddenly the Truth had changed. And he found it vulgar.”
A counter-revolution against what Vatican II unleashed was led by Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. They stood firm on moral issues and began to push the liturgical celebration back towards beauty. This points to my dilemma as a Protestant looking in on Catholic struggles: the people who I would most agree with on birth control, morality, beauty in architecture and liturgy, are the same people that would most vehemently defend the supposed Petrine office, priestly celibacy, bowing to images, praying to the dead, Purgatory and all the other things that legitimately need reform. And even John Paul II was marked with a weird ecumenism that seemed to be universalistic and too open to errors like Islam.
This is getting too long for a single post, so I will break it in two…