It is pretty well axiomatic that if you want to read a reasoned and charitable discussion on important issues, you won't find it in blog comment boxes. There 'Mr Angry of Purley' has full rein, barely even subject to editorial moderation, to write what his most extreme emotions tell him to write at two o'clock in the morning, perhaps having worked his way through most of a whisky bottle. And he doesn't even need to write his real name. From his hermitage (or his computer room anyway) he damns the world, and certainly weasel priests like me who hesitate to turn our altars around immediately and begin celebrating the Traditional Mass exclusively, no matter what our parishioners think.
The poor Holy Father is often invoked in all this 'why won't he just order the bishops to X…?' (here write in whatever your particular gripe is). There is no consideration as to what will happen if the bishop says 'no!' What does the Holy Father do? Excommunicate the bishop, of course! And when two-thirds of the episcopate are excommunicated, what then?
It is just the same, on a smaller scale, in our parishes. I should, apparently, order my musicians to put away their guitars and use the Liber Usualis from next Sunday. Well, what if they say no? I could indeed turn my parish into a screaming hell-hole of bitter arguments, but would that actually serve any purpose? In the end, my parishioners would, the majority of them, either mutinously put up with the situation, or else go somewhere other for Mass, or lapse. I would actually inoculate them against the very thing I was trying to bring about.
I am completely convinced that Pope Benedict and, indeed, the Doctor Lapidarius Father Zuhlsdorf have it right. 'Brick by brick, folks'.
The Church tried repression before. In the past, of course, it could back up its commands with the Inquisition and the State's pyre. Those options aren't open to us; our age in that respect is more civilized, thank God. But in our modern world, people really can vote with their feet, and they need to be persuaded, not ordered. Both Blessed Pius IX and St Pius X, wonderful men, tried dealing with what was then called 'Liberal Catholicism' and came to be called 'Modernism' with repression. It worked up to a point. But only up to a point, Lord Copper.
If a person asks an intelligent question, one is well advised to try and give an intelligent answer. The response 'you aren't allowed to ask that question!' may produce compliance, but a reluctant one. Resentments will seethe and brew under the surface, and the questions will not go away; rather they will become more insistent. In a more liberal age, they will burst forth like a dam breaking, and carry away all sorts of good stuff in the torrent. Is not that a good description of the Church of the 60s and since?
Right now, the Holy Father could jump up and down, shout and holler for obedience. He is unlikely to get it from everyone, and he risks actually putting the Church into a worse state by trying. Instead, he is using the policy of the Doctor Lapidarius; brick by brick. At last, the serious questions of the liberals are being treated seriously and being answered by someone who doesn't lose his temper or his charity. It is an awesome sight. I re-read the other day the Introduction to the Holy Father's first Jesus of Nazareth book. He begins by saying that what he wants to do is simply, reconnect the 'Jesus of Faith' with the 'Jesus of History.' And does just that. Bingo! Is not that worth thousands of anathemas? Even The Tablet has to acknowledge the Pope's theological skill and eloquence! On the liturgical front, he presents what he thinks people can manage right now, and by doing it himself, encourages others to imitate him. Hence all the 'benedictine arrangements' appearing here and there. For those who want the traditional Mass, it can be freely offered. It is up to the Mr Angrys to go to them, support them, encourage them, and, brick by brick, rebuild what has been lost, only stronger and better, having learnt important lessons along the way.
And that is the model for the parish, too. Brick by brick. No anathemas, just helping people to love and desire the truth because it is, just simply, better.