Are you suffering from Francis Shock Syndrome? There’s help for you! August 4, 2015
Posted by Tantumblogo in Basics, disconcerting, episcopate, error, General Catholic, Interior Life, Papa, sadness, scandals, secularism, SOD, the return, the struggle for the Church, Tradition.
The Bear at St. Corbinian’s Bear – who I swear writes exactly like a Senior Chief Petty Officer I used to know spoke – has a most relevant post regarding the affliction many Catholics are feeling under the current pontificate. We feel spiritually and even psychologically harmed by the ongoing scandal and fear over even greater disasters in the future. Some have called it Francis Derangement Syndrome, but that’s a hypermontanist calumny against people honestly feeling stressed and worse in confronting the constant antics in Rome. I think Francis Shock Syndrome might fit better. Kind of like Toxic Shock Syndrome, but from an ecclesiastical perspective.
The Bear has properly diagnosed the spiritual and psychological discomfiture many souls have been experiencing over the past two-plus years, seeing in it a form of cognitive dissonance. For those who don’t know, cognitive dissonance occurs when deeply held beliefs are suddenly challenged (if not obliterated) by reality. Catholics have been taught to believe that popes are infallible but many have taken that into impeccability. How can the current pontificate be reconciled with that very deep belief?
This pain is worsened by being told that they are not just wrong, but bad, horrible people and eve worse Catholics for feeling that something is very awry at the highest echelon of the Church. The Bear notes that such attacks are simply some people’s way of relieving that same stress themselves – they declare criticism of the papacy out of bounds, so they don’t have to think about the ongoing scandals. The Bear also examines other ways of trying to relieve that stress, and how valid or invalid they are with respect to reality. The worst case is when people create alternate realities that basically define the problem away.
Hopefully I’ve given sufficient set up. I think we’re dealing with an unusually bright bear here……he gives much to consider (emphasis in original, my comments):
If you believe that the Church is a divine institution, carrying out God’s plan of evangelization and the cure of souls, maintaining a tradition that ensures its integrity, and if you envision popes in the mold of Benedict XVI, John Paul II, and even Pius XII, Pope Francis comes as much of a shock as a spaceman from……..planet Clarion. [Clever picture at the link]
You can’t shake the feeing that something is terribly wrong. It’s not supposed to be this way. Popes aren’t supposed to be as off-kilter as Pope Francis. The Church is not supposed to be talking about changing things as settled as Jesus’ condemnation of remarriage after divorce, let alone homosexual unions. Nor should it be refereeing scientific debates, and in general showing interest in everything but the supernatural. [Indeed]
So, on the one hand, you have everything you believe in your core about the Catholic Church. On the other, you have the undeniable fact of Pope Francis. If a Grand Canyon sized split like that is not enough to cause cognitive dissonance, the Bear does not know what is……..[And this is something very smart guys like Eliot Bougis have been wrestling with for months. Some pre-conciliar (but generally post-Vatican I) theological treatises make out that breathing even a hint of criticism of a Pope is highly suspect if not directly sinful. Others (including some great saints) seem to argue that such criticism is possible. All of these, however, assume a responsible, Church-loving pontiff. Is that assumption safe anymore?]
………So how do we deal with cognitive dissonance? The Bear is not pretending to provide counseling, but will propose a few ideas. In general, there are four effective defense mechanisms that kick in to reducing dissonance.
The perfect example (perfect as an example, not as a model) is thesedevacantist. Get rid of the Pope and you get rid of the dissonance! They have changed one of the conflicting cognitions (“Francis is Pope”). Similarly, others may leave the Church. They have changed their cognition the opposite way from the sedevacantists by getting rid of the Church. [Of course, sede vacantism as a somewhat widespread movement pre-dates Pope Francis by decades]
Another way is to keep the Pope and the Church while turning a blind eye to anything distressing that the Pope may do or say. This is the ultramontanist solution. [I think we’ve gone beyond ultra, and into hyper-montanism, but whatevs] A variation is to blame everybody in the Church but the Pope. This is the well-known position of Church Militant’s Michael Voris. It’s the Pope’s “bad advisors,” or the bishops. Both simply ignore the conflicting cognition. This means simply disregarding all evidence that Francis’ Papacy is deeply flawed. The Bear, by the way, is not saying this is a bad approach…….[I think it requires too much willful disregard of reality, and can even approach outright dishonesty]
Still others may physically stay in the Church, but just disengage. It’s easier to shrug it all off than deal with the pain. “Oh, I don’t follow all that.” They have justified the conflicting cognition by changing it (“It’s not all that important”).
One might also find a way to justify a cognition by adding another cognition to it. Perhaps by telling oneself, “Pope Francis may be Pope, but is so bad that normal pope rules just don’t apply to him.” This is probably where St. Corbinian’s Bear falls. If it were just an ordinary difference on a papal opinion or two, the Bear would not dare growl so. [I tend to agree. But I think the reality must be faced that we are dealing with more than simply a Pope Francis problem, but a problem of popes for the past several decades. Or does that just reveal my latent protestantism? Nevertheless, while we may find Pope Benedict or Pope Saint John Paul II more convivial to our point of view, there has been much in the popes since 1958 that has been quite radical compared to, say, Gregory XVI or Pius VIII, has there not?]
These are all natural psychological defense measures that may kick in according to the individual’s needs and beliefs. Some of them have very bad “side effects.” What can we do consciously to help us deal with cognitive dissonance caused by Pope Francis?
If you are reading this, you are probably remaining faithful, but experience real psychological distress to a greater or lesser degree. We do not quite know what to do with a Pope who seems to have departed from the Petrine program, if not the neighborhood of reason. Even worse, we have the added stressors that we are not supposed to criticize the Pope, and that we can rely on his ordinary magisterium. The problem is exacerbated by the relentless train of unfortunate comments and visuals.
So what can we do? These are some ideas. You may find some more appealing than others. Not all of them are for everybody.
- nail your foot to the floor in front of your favorite pew and die there (Holy Stubbornness) [a very good one]
- seek out the pre-1960 comfort zone of the past in different ways, e.g. the traditional Latin Mass, Douay Rheims Bible, etc. [highly recommended, but beware, doing so will inevitably reveal startling differences in practice between the pre- and post-conciliar Church]
- draw comfort from like-minded people at blogs like St. Corbinian’s Bear and others (if others are with you, you will feel safer), and that may include using comment boxes
- on the other hand, avoid, as much as possible, all news and discussion of Pope Francis [Is this what Catholics are reduced to? Avoiding mention of the Pope at all costs?]
- more Jesus, less Francis — a regular classic prayer life (Divine Office, rosary, etc.), reading scripture (which has many examples of suffering under bad leaders) [!!]
- recognize that this will be a relatively short papacy, and things will undoubtedly get better [This gets back to learning the pre-conciliar Faith and coming to recognize the rather stark differences at all levels between what we do/know now, and what was done/known then.]
- therapy — the biggest thing in your life is being seriously messed with; people who are particularly at risk might benefit [Unless you can find a really orthodox Catholic therapist, I advise strongly against this one. Loads of people have been therapied right out of the Church]
- God permitted this to happen — you don’t need to know everything, but it does test our faith
In the end, perhaps the best we can do is hold on to our beliefs about the Church, while at the same time acknowledging the problems Francis poses. We don’t have to have all the answers. But we know what is right, and what is wrong, and we know nothing Pope Francis can do is able to change one to the other.
I very much agree with the conclusion. I may not be fully on board with every single statement above but I think the main thrust – cognitive dissonance and people’s responses to it – is quite good. I also very much believe that a return to the traditional practice of the Faith – what you might call Catholicism – is absolutely vital, not just for dealing with Pope Francis, but for far more important reasons, like coming to know the Faith much more fully, leading a life pleasing to God, and passing from this life in the state of grace. Not that it’s impossible to do so otherwise, it’s just that being a Catholic makes it infinitely easier.