I am now getting email asking me about this.
Here is what I was asked and what I responded.
[QUESTION] 1. Is there a backlash forming from so-called “conservative” Catholics in the US upset with Pope Francis?
Backlash is too strong a word. Let’s avoid hype. There is concern in some quarters around two main issues: His Holiness’s view of capitalism and his view of sexual morality. The latter concerns were largely generated around the Synod, though they began earlier with his comments on the flight from Rio. On neither of these issues has Francis completely lost conservative Catholics in the US Church … yet. Rank-and-file Catholics of all stripes remain extraordinarily devoted to him. However, conservative Catholic “opinion-shapers” now voice concerns in increasingly urgent tones. Nevertheless, this cannot be characterized as a backlash. That would require action that openly resists the Pope. While there have been some calls for that (cf Douthat), nothing is happening on the ground.
If there is backlash, however, we should look in the other direction. The liberal fringe of theologians and powers-that-be are vocal and virtually omnipresent in the media. At the Synod, a wide spectrum of Fathers stood up to the brazen manipulation of the debate. It could be that the divide is not so much between conservatives and progressives but between those who stick with Christ’s clear will and those who seek ways around it.
[QUESTION] 2. If so, is this growing or has it always been there since he was elected? How about since the Synod?
Whichever way one wants to characterize concerns about His Holiness from conservative quarters in these USA, they have certainly grown wider and louder since he was elected. They were not widespread at the beginning of the pontificate. The Synod contributed to a perceivable change in the feeling about His Holiness among conservatives. You might say that the Synod was a turning point for conservatives, the end of the honeymoon.
That said, it is no surprise that Catholics disagree on matters of prudential judgment (e.g. economics, style). The problem, as shown at the Synod, is more with those who claim that everything they say is in tune with the vision of Francis.
[QUESTION] 3. Is there is opposition, what is causing this do you think?
See # 1.
[QUESTION] 4. Card. Burke and Chaput have been saying some slightly rougher things about Francis in recent days ñ is this significant, and also is this usual or unusual with popes and bishops?
It important to separate Chaput from Burke a bit. Chaput maintains that he didn’t criticize His Holiness. Instead, His Excellency warned that the media’s reflection on the Synod was creating confusion. He said that Catholics may be confused by false reports that Church teaching in certain areas was changing.
Card. Burke is another kettle of fish. It seems to me that what he said to Vida Nueva (i.e, the Church is “rudderless” or “without a compass”, whatever it was he said) could be stretched into an implied criticism of His Holiness.
As to significance, yes, it is significant. Why? Pope Francis explicitly called for open, frank, honest debate on the issues among the bishops during the Synod. Because Synod ’14 is only the first of two sessions on these issues, the interim year is also part of the conversation. Pope Francis wants honest, frank debate. As a matter of fact, it seems as if he really can’t get enough of it. It is hard to imagine that he would want his closest collaborators to be “yes men”.
Again about Card. Burke, review his own words and take them at face value.
“Certain media simply want to keep portraying me as living my life as an opponent to Pope Francis,” he said. “I am not at all. I’ve been serving him in the Apostolic Signatura and in other ways I continue to serve him.”
“I wasn’t saying that the Holy Father’s idea is this,” he explained, “but I’ve seen other people using his words to justify a kind of “accommodation” of the faith to the culture which can never be so.”
[QUESTION] 5. What can Francis do to tame some of this opposition, and do you think he will do it?
What can he do? I suppose he could resign or die. I’m not being flippant, either. Death or resignation are when Popes stop being oppossed! To be Pope means to have opposition. There is always someone against you. That’s why we have Popes: to strengthen the brethren in the face of the attacks of the world, the flesh and the devil.
At the Synod, Pope Francis reaffirmed a basic truth of the Church’s ecclesiology. The Successor of Peter is the guarantor of the fidelity of the Church to Christ’s teaching. In his concluding speech he recalled forcefully his role as Supreme Pontiff. I am sure he will act on his words. I am not sure how, but I am sure he will.
While I am hardly in the position of telling or even suggesting what the Pope should do, it seems to me that he will state what Christ and 20 centuries of Apostolic faith have expressed, what is found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The Church has no intention of pleasing the world when what is on the table is contrary to the truth about man and about God.
The concern is not so much about Pope Francis. Every Pope is different in style, appeal, personality. I think the concern must be fixed on the nostaligc ideologues who are stuck in the 1970s and who are desperately trying to revive their heydays after 30 years under St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
Honest Catholics should avoid a situation where a faction tried to force the hand of Peter in 1968 about contraception and then, when Humanae vitae was promulgated, they revolted against Pope Paul once he did the only thing any Pope could do: reaffirm clear teaching. We must avoid bulding up groundless expectations, which will lead, on the part of those who have sided with the world, to revolt against the Roman Pontiff and all that he stands for in the Church. Those who repeatedly say “Francis! Francis!” today just might ditch him when they can no longer instrumentalize him. That’s what they did with Paul VI. That’ll be the true backlash you asked about.