Pope Francis pummels traditional priests, seminarians, laity … again. What can we learn from that?

Over the last few years, Our Holy Father Pope Francis has said some pretty awful things about priests.  He doesn’t limit himself to priests.  Remember how he pummeled the Cardinals and Bishops of the Roman Curia as a Christmas gift a couple years ago?  HERE  Everyone is a target: women religious, theologians, canonists, you name ’em.

The other day, during his daily Mass fervorino he recounted an anecdote – actually, a bit of gossip – in a rather – well, there isn’t any other way to take it – insulting manner about a seminarian getting some clerical gear.  He heaped ridicule on this seminarian and on pretty much anyone who respects and uses outward traditional garb or, I suppose, anything else that is traditional.  I am reminded of his mocking of an altar boy who was standing with his hands folded together carefully… as altar boys ought.  I am reminded of his scoffing at a spiritual bouquet which people presented to him.

I honestly don’t know what His Holiness is trying to accomplish with these harsh gestures and words.  It could be that – while they deal with things that are not his cup of tea – he says them before their possible impact is considered.

BUT … Don’t we all do that?  I know that I do, sometimes.  And I regret it afterward.  I suspect that Pope Francis does too.

Let’s see his words posted at the site of Vatican Radio:

“About rigidity and worldliness, it was some time ago that an elderly monsignor of the curia came to me, who works, a normal man, a good man, in love with Jesus – and he told me that he had gone to buy a couple of shirts at Euroclero [the clerical clothing store] and saw a young fellow – he thinks he had not more than 25 years, or a young priest or about to become a priest – before the mirror, with a cape, large, wide, velvet, with a silver chain. He then took the Saturno [wide-brimmed clerical headgear], he put it on and looked himself over. A rigid and worldly one. And that priest – he is wise, that monsignor, very wise – was able to overcome the pain, with a line of healthy humor and added: ‘And it is said that the Church does not allow women priests!’. Thus, does the work that the priest does when he becomes a functionary ends in the ridiculous, always.”

It’s sort of an inversion of the parable of the publican and the pharisee, no?  “Thank God I’m not like him!”, only the fancy and the lowly are reversed.

I must ask: How many times has Pope Francis inveighed against the perils of gossip in the Church?  Gossip in “the terrorism of words” according to Vatican Radio.  “Gossip is rotten,” he told a crowd gathered in St. Peter’s Square back in 2014. “At the beginning, it seems to be something enjoyable and fun, like a piece of candy.  But at the end, it fills the heart with bitterness and also poisons us.”  You can find other examples.

Also, a subtle point, this is probably not going to be appreciated by women who think that they can be, or want to be, priests.  THIS is what the Pope thinks of you: You just want to play dress up – hah! hah! – aren’t you ridiculous?

A couple comments and explanations about this are in order.  First, the cape described is called a cappa.  It is not the cappa magna of the bishop.  It is a black, ankle or slightly higher length, cloak. It sometimes has a velvet collar (mine does not), that fastens at the throat with clasps and a chain.  Sometimes they have fabric “frogs” as a closure.

The use of these accouterments means, in itself, precisely nothing.

It is superficial to judge the heart and mind of a person by these fleeting glimpses.  After all, who even knows if that seminarian or priest actually bought what he tried on?  And who knows why he might have bought it?  Any priest who lives in a cold climate – as I do – and who has to go to the cemetery for burials or who goes from the rectory to the church when it’s -10° and blowing knows how useful this cloak is.  Moreover, the flat hat, or as the Roman’s call them, “saturno” (after the planet – also called “frying pans”), is quite practical.  It keeps the rain and snow from going down your neck and it will shade over a book as well.

However puzzling and, frankly, derogatory the public recitation of that anecdote was to a large number of people, my main concern reaches beyond the itsy bitsy, teensy weensy feelings of traditional Roman Catholics, who by now are thoroughly inured by decades of abuse and neglect  from the priests and bishops who should be giving them pastoral care.

Let’s consider for a moment… this:

QUAERITUR: Would we Latins be out of line in mocking our Eastern Catholic or Orthodox brothers?

An Orthodox married priest explains why he wears his attire to Walmart.

eastern priest walmart

Just look at the strange hat, will you?  Maybe it’s a bad thing?

Lots of Eastern priests wear silver and gold chains with cross and icons.  Are they doing something bad? Look at these guys, with their black robes and their silver chains.

Some of these have three things.  And these hats are even stranger!

Heck… Eastern Catholics and Orthodox don’t just wear hats, they wear crowns!

Look at all that fancy finery!  Are they just functionaries?  Are they ridiculous?  Perhaps it should be sold and the money given to the poor.

As for the saturno…

Benedict XVI saturno

Why did THE POPE wear it?  Why, to be ridiculous, of course.

(The real answer is that the sun was really hot.)

St. John Paul used a saturno when it was hot.

John Paul II saturno

John Paul II saturno May 1980 Ouagadougou

Let’s get serious for the last part of this post.

I’ve known clerics who are really into the outward trappings of traditional Catholicism.  Really into them.  Some – few – of them are, well, a bit vain.  Others, however, are perfectly normal, sane, hard working men who pour themselves out like rivers to their flocks.  They find the garb good and useful and they put it to good use.  In time people see what priests are all about even if they wear – gasp – a cappa when they go out into the cold.  And… lots… dare I say… most?  the vast majority?… want their priests to look like priests.  No?  Am I wrong about that?

So.  What’s the take away from this for me, for the priests and the seminarians who are reading this.  What can I learn from this beating that the Vicar of Christ doled out to every cleric who owns a cloak and a hat, who does not despise traditional things enough?

  • First, be careful how you talk about people based solely on appearances or glances of something that you can’t possibly grasp from a distance.  Check your tongues!  How often would we – would I – have avoided sinning had we – had I – simply kept our mouths shut.
  • Next, remember that the Church has two lungs, West and East.   The Holy Father would never in a million years mock Easterners for their traditional style of dress and for their high liturgical style.  But he regularly mocks Westerners.  What of it?  We Latins also have our traditional style of dress and our own high liturgical style that matches the East step for step.  We have nothing to apologize for in wanting it and using it with good intentions.
  • Also, too much of a good thing is too much.  If you are a young priest or a seminarian, and you are really into these things, examine your motives and consciences.  I’m not saying give them up.  On the contrary!  I’m saying that if you are too attached to them, to the exclusion of prudence, etc., make some changes.

action-item-buttonMoreover, remember that we have going here at this blog a long-term project to get birettas for seminarians.  HERE

John Hastreiter at Leaflet Missal in St. Paul is collecting names and hat sizes of seminarians who don’t have a biretta and putting them on a “biretta wanted list”.  Then you, dear readers, can contact John, buy a biretta, and he will send it to a man on the list!

Contact John in church goods at Leaflet Missal in St. Paul – 651-209-1951 Ext-331.  If he is away, leave a voicemail with your phone number and he will call you back ASAP.

Let’s encourage these men!  Call John and buy a biretta for a seminarian.  It’s as easy as that.

Lastly, we priests – most of us anyway – are not precious tender snowflakes who need affirmation and hugs and puppies and coloring books.  I won’t say that we need a drubbing all the time, but we can take it when its handed out.


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