The Cult of Personality of the Pope
Fr Hunwicke's Mutual Enrichment does a bang-up job dismantling the papolatry of our age. The Bear would like to echo some of these sentiments.
The Pope is not the divine Emperor of Japan, seated on the Chrysanthemum Throne as a descendent of sun-goddess Amaterasu. He should not be the subject of a cult of personality like Kim Jong Un, or Stalin, with a carefully managed image and ubiquitous presence. He is not an oracle that utters gnomic statements to be interpreted by the popular media.
The papacy has been distorted by modern, worldwide media. Sad to say, popes in our age have been all to happy to make themselves celebrities, while swallowing the Church down to the last byte. The Bear sees no end to this trend, which goes back to Pius XII (although not to promote dodgy ideas).
Ironically, the Bear, who writes incessantly on Pope Francis, thinks we pay too much attention to him. (The Bear will continue to do so, although the act is wearing thin.)
The Bear doesn't think he's a reformer. He seems to lack the focused intensity for that. So what is he?
Who Does Pope Francis Think He Is, Anyway?
The Bear believes his Holiness sees himself as an actor in a handful of roles. His image is carefully managed to show him as The Humble. The Uniter. The Caring. The Planet-Saving. That is not to say he is insincere. Unfortunately, he seems all too sincere in changing the agenda of the Roman Catholic Church. He is more comfortable with the UN's Agenda 2030 than the Great Commission.
Now, apparently, we are going to be treated to these very well-produced campaign commercials every month. (The Bear wonders how many takes it took to get his pitch-perfect, eyes on the camera lens, commentary down.) The February intentions, by the way, are that "we take good care of creation," and that "opportunities may increase for dialogue and encounter with the peoples of Asia." (Bear seems to remember St. Francis Xavier had his own way of doing that, but wasn't satisfied with just dialogue and encounter.)
What office is Pope Francis running for? He's already Pope. What indeed.
How Pope Francis Operates
He knows his time is short. The Bear thinks he is laying down markers, and intends to constrain and direct future popes with a dead hand from the grave.
The Church itself, however, has remained largely untouched. He knows he does not need the heartburn that officially changing Church teachings would bring. Instead, he and his agents use public relations. But PR is not nothing. While PR does not change what the Church believes, it changes what people believe the Church believes. Obviously, that is important, and this is how Pope Francis operates.
A mere glorified press release from some commission lays down a marker that constrains future popes. The Church has already been praised for bringing it's views up to date. It sets expectations. Woe be to the pope who would violate those expectations by "changing Church doctrine." By "turning back the clock." Can you image the outcry if the next pope said, no, Jews need to accept Jesus Christ, after all? Just as no pope can ever again use the sedia gestatoria, or wear the papal tiara, now no pope can wear the mozzeta, or the red shoes, or refuse to gabble to reporters at 30,000 feet (Francis did not invent this, but he has made the most of it.) At least not without criticism and ridicule.
Pope Francis can travel to Sweden to praise the Reformation and Martin Luther, and the rubes will eat it up. Having spent a long time in show business, the Bear recognizes a good act. He is playing on the desire all good Christians have for the Body of Christ to be whole once more. Few will realize it's just one more night in the center ring for Francis the Talking Pope.
Luther will always be a heresiarch, and the Reformation will always be a bloody tragedy, no matter what Pope Francis does with his Lutheran mummery. The gesture always looms large in the liberal imagination, which confuses it with accomplishment.
We are in the fifth reel of this movie, so whatever surprise ending Pope Francis has in store for us will probably be soon. In some ways, he may have already succeeded, by reducing the papacy to a series of gestures. Caiaphas unwittingly prophesied that it was expedient for one man to die for the people. At dinner after his election, Pope Francis said jokingly to the Cardinals, "May God have mercy on you for what you have done."
The Church needs an orthodox, reserved pope who respects tradition and is brave enough to challenge the expectations Francis has set. If the Church is to be anything but head of a UN Religion and Spirituality Organization, future popes are once again going to have to make the acquaintance of the Bride of Christ.