Why did Francis do it?

What follows is a response to theologian Larry Chapp, who wrote a very thought-provoking piece at his blog in response to Pope Francis’s decision to restrict the use of the Tridentine liturgy. I think he does a fairly good assessment of why Summorum Pontificum (Benedict’s 2007 decision to loosen restrictions backfired). I respect Larry’s views on ecclesiology, Magisterial authority, and the papacy, but I disagree with him on Pope Francis.

Larry simply doesn’t like Pope Francis. But unlike a lot of critics, who then argue that Francis is a heretic or he’s a masonic infiltrator, Larry’s dislike of the pope is on prudential grounds. If only all we had to worry about was prudential disagreement!

In his piece (which I encourage you to read first), Larry explains why he thinks Traditionis Custodes was a bad solution to a real problem. In my response (both below and in the comment box under his post), I write about how our different backgrounds might explain why our priorities are different.

I conclude with a possible reason why Francis decided to act, and why he did it so decisively.

Hi Larry, I appreciate this because it gives me a lot to think about. I'm going to say I agree with about 80-85% of what you've written here, and I think most of my areas of disagreement will be predictable, but why I disagree might not be what you expect. I think our life experiences shape our impressions of what we're seeing in the Church.

First, my own experience of liberal/progressive Catholicism is much different than yours. In some ways, I think it's a generational thing, but I was raised in a conservative-bordering-on-reactionary Catholic family in the 80s and 90s. My grandfather was a very angry man and nothing angered him more than Vatican II. He wasn't a joiner or particularly ambitious so he just went to the local parish (and refused to do the responses) and subscribed to stuff like the Wanderer. I have joked that I was the only 10-year-old kid outside of Wisconsin who was deeply distressed about the beautiful churches being wreckovated by Archbishop Weakland.

My own family was a little more active in the Church, but our upbringing was very moralistic and very conscious of heaven, hell, good, evil, judgement, etc. And from there we were plunked into the regular suburban parochial school and the extremely heterodox liberal Catholic high school (women should be priests, Eucharist is a symbol, if you have sex use a condom, JP2 is awful, Resurrection happens in our hearts, etc). I was the type of kid who would argue with my religion teachers if something seemed off, we were the only kids in the whole 1000 kid school who received communion on the tongue at the gym mass (with no kneeling), etc.


I've had the bunker mentality. It's not a good place to be. I held onto that until my late 20s and it dawned on me that I'd never derived a single moment of joy from religion in my life up to that point. I was married with kids, and a practicing rigid Catholic (like the ones Francis is always complaining about). I don't think I've ever missed Mass without just cause a single Sunday in my life. And I was a liturgical snob. Not anywhere near as extreme as today's trads, but it could have gone that way.

But when that thought dawned on me, something clicked and I realized that I was doing it all wrong. So I started seeking. It was reading Ratzinger/Benedict that woke me up to the whole idea of encountering Jesus and being in friendship with Jesus. Seriously, a life-changing, radical conversion. This was like 2010-2011. I love Pope Benedict. The man changed my life. But around the same time my family had a falling out with a traditionalist pastor and wound up with a (still very orthodox) "pastoral" pastor at another parish.

In the next 3-4 years, we built community at the parish, ran programs made great Catholic friends. Along the way Francis was elected pope. He was basically exactly what I needed in my life at that moment to really start trying to live out the Gospel. He challenged me but because I was learning from him and following him closely, I got used to his quirks. I didn't see the discontinuity (except with regard to liturgy) that everyone else did because I saw the same Gospel Benedict preached being lived out more radically by Francis. And he's a bigmouthed extrovert like me, which I really appreciated.


He's a mess. I get that. So was my new pastor. People use the gifts God gives them. Hagan Lio. He's nothing like the progressive Catholics I've known throughout my life. He's actually very faithful, but he lives out that faith in a way that actually seems alive.

This is an example that parallels Francis's vision, as opposed to 60s-70s progressivism. About two years ago, I went to a conference and fell in with a "mixed" group of liturgists. The younger half was from diverse backgrounds, but were fairly mainstream, novus ordo type Catholics. Maybe leaned a little towards peace and justice-y. The other half was liberal 70-90 year old priests and nuns. And boy did these two groups not get along. I think the older group's ideal liturgy was a group of women waving long scarves around a statue of a goddess in the wilderness or something. Whereas the younger group was like "hey this is a really powerful spiritual written by an oppressed indigenous alpaca herder in the Andes." But unlike the elderly nuns, they actually believed in Catholicism, the real presence, the Mass. That 70s generation is dying off and they did not hand down their "faith." That younger group of liturgists loved Pope Francis. That older group? "Well, at least he is better than the last two."

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Just a few years into Francis’s papacy. My men's group is arguing about Amoris Laetitia, my fellow parishioners are posting Vortex videos on social media. Articles about Vigano are being emailed around, my Catholic groups are filled with people who are praising Cardinal Burke and Bishop Schneider. By 2019 my beloved pastor was making negative references to "pachamama" from the pulpit. Catholic progressives aren't what tore a Catholic community apart. It was EWTN, Lifesite, Taylor Marshall, Cardinal Burke and the rest of that crowd.

My mother, a lifelong, daily-rosary praying Catholic died doubting the legitimacy of the pope because of Raymond Arroyo, Cardinal Burke, and her (also) radicalized friends from the pro-life group at Church. My mom never read a word Pope Francis wrote, but she died under the influence of this propaganda campaign.

Sorry, this turned out a lot longer than I thought it would.

This is my read on WHY Pope Francis did it (I think you are correct about the theological reasons):

I think he did it because they already hate him. He did nothing to them for 8 years and they called him a "dictator pope." How much more can they hate him? Really. He did it because it needs to be done eventually. He's sparing future popes the headache. It is going to be hideously ugly for the foreseeable future, there will be a lot of collateral damage. But because he's doing it, he's the one they will put most of the blame on.

He assessed (in my judgement, correctly) that Benedict's generous indult (which I enthusiastically supported at the time) completely backfired because of the radicals. In eight years, they've taken most of the mainstream Catholic Conservative intellectuals from 2013 and convinced them to adopt the basics of Lefebvre's ecclesiology by 2017. That's an amazing feat. Something had to be done. I can't imagine a solution that would be less ugly. The best option is to just shut it down.