Other Catholics are asking, by emphasizing the image of the simple pope, is Francis bringing the mystical office — seen as a living symbol of God’s stewardship of the world — too far down to earth? And is calling Francis the “humble pope” implying that other popes — particularly Francis’s predecessor Benedict XVI — were not humble?
Speaking to National Catholic Report’s John Allen Jr., from Rio De Janeiro, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput said this week that the right wing of the church has been “generally not happy” with Francis. And that’s been evident in a handful of blog posts by influential Catholics asking questions of Francis’s commitment to traditional church practices like more elaborate Masses, for example, or washing only men’s feet during Holy Week services.
In a post titled “Pope Francis’ Preference for Simplicity Leaves Much To Be Spiritually Desired … ” blogger Katrina Fernandez recently wrote of Francis’s disinterest in the finery and pomp associated with his office: “It’s just so hard to warm up to someone who feels the things you find important and meaningful to be trivial frivolities.”
Indeed, it was the richness of the church’s liturgical and spiritual traditions that led Timothy Putnam to convert to Catholicism during Benedict’s papacy.
Putnam had been a United Methodist worship pastor for 10 years when he converted — after what he describes as a “realization that the faith that I was raised with was most present in the Catholic Church.” He and his wife were drawn not to “happy clappy” Catholicism, but to the traditions of the church that predate Vatican II.
His family, which includes four children under the age of 6, attends services at a Catholic parish that hosts Latin Masses, utilizes communion rails and where many women wear head coverings during Mass, all of which are rare in mainstream American Catholicism today. He is now director of Marriage and Family Life for the Diocese of Tulsa.
Putnam’s affinity for church traditions, he says, is “a connection to the broader church not only around the world but also in time that we have this connection that we’re doing the same things that have been done through the centuries.”
“I was very, very fond of [Pope] Benedict,” Putnam says. He was my pope. He was the one I came into the church under. And he was very much a scholar, a very deep thinker. You had to read over the things he said three or four or five times to make sure you really knew what he was saying. Coming from an academic background I liked that very much.”
Where the hesitation around Pope Francis stems from, Putnam says, is a perception that by praising Francis’ simple style, people are “pit[ing] him against his predecessor.” Noting that in the transition from Benedict to Francis, Catholics have “gone from something that was a very liturgically conservative style to one that is quite a bit less rigid,” Putnam nonetheless adds that “this pope is focusing on something different and something that just as much needs to be addressed,” namely “not being stuck inside the walls of the church.”
“What I’ve experienced with people who I know who are very traditional is a love for Pope Francis. I haven’t seen too many people who don’t have respect for him. I know that they’re out there because I hear of them through articles and blogs. I hear that they’re out there. That they’re nervous, that they’re stirring.”