Two things have struck me about the last month; the first is: how much of the fury about the Synodal fixings has been expressed by laymen and laywomen. You may think this is because presbyters are often nervous about putting their heads above parapets; I have heard the view that bishops in the Catholic Church have more ways of bringing pressure to bear on clergy they dislike than do the poor toothless old dears who discharge episkope in the C of E. Possibly; but I am more inclined to think it is because orthodox and traditionalist movements in the Catholic Church are so very substantially lay-run and lay-dominated. Rather like the lay Wardens and Brethren of the great Medieval Guilds, they are the powerful people who call upon clergy to do for them the essential things that only clergy can do ... and, like old-style fags grateful to be noticed by the Bloods of the Upper Sixth, we tug our forelocks and jump to it. They are very much in the driving seat. It is in the more liberal corners of the 'mainstream' that naked, unreformed clericalism still flourishes and members of the plebs sancta Dei are bossed around by any ignorant clerical know-all who gets his kicks out of endlessly misinforming them about "the Council".
The other thing I have noticed is that the natural and splendid and time-honoured Catholic instinct to avoid saying critical or disrespectful things about the man who is Sovereign Pontiff is increasingly wearing thinner and thinner. This, I think, is largely because so many of us, clergy and layfolk, bloggers and blogreaders, simply do not know how to understand and interpret the endlessly unkind expressions which flow from the os Petri. Especially after the gentle courtesy and personal charm of Pope Benedict, the predictable condemnations and the merciless language in which Pope Francis' views are couched are so difficult to gloss. Is it simply that this is Latin American culture? Is it because in Argentina nobody listens to what you say unless you give them a good kicking first? Is it something about the particular psychology or even the physiology of this Successor of S Peter? Has Jesuitry got anything to do with it? Does he expect us to be cowed by his words or is he 'up for' us to reply in kind, tit for tat, insult for insult, with lots of jolly and good-humoured knock-about fun? All the stuff about parrhesia ... does he mean it, or is it just code for "If you're in agreement with me I expect you to talk loud and to talk often. Oh, and by the way, if you aren't, well, I am the pope and I've got your card marked already."?
We cannot know how much longer le bon Dieu will permit this hermeneutically unfathomable pontificate to last. But it is surely clear that we are going to need very much more than the usual ration of daily grace to get through it. Come, Holy Ghost ...
Consolator alme, veni,
linguas rege, corda leni;
nihil fellis aut veneni
sub tua praesentia.