Maybe I am reading more into this than I should. But there has been the sound of distant thunder in the Roman Church, and it seems to be emanating from Rome. When Benedict XVI was elected to the Papacy there was a collective groan heard from one end of the globe to the other as liberal Catholics reacted with shock, anger and more than a touch of fear at the prospect of the Panzer Kardinal taking his seat on the throne of Peter. On the other hand conservative and all but the most radical Trad Catholics reacted with general approval. He was their man. And if there was one thing that both the conservatives and liberals were sure of, it was that the new Pope was going to clean house.
Except that he didn't.
To the dismay of the Catholic right (and the relief of the left) Benedict's reign could be characterized thus far as a moderately conservative one. The mass purges of liberal bishops and theologians did not occur. Nor did he repudiate Vatican II. And while he issued a document freeing the ancient liturgy of the Latin Church he has done little to suppress the reformed liturgy cooked up in the wake of the council, deeply distressing Catholic Traditionalists.
Indeed his pontificate thus far has been mostly focused on theological issues with his often very deep sermons and lectures, which he delights in giving to everyone from Cardinal Archbishops to the remarkably large crowds that appear at his Wednesday audiences. To the extent he has addressed the highly polarized divide within the Roman Church between liberals and conservatives, he has emphasized a "hermeneutic of continuity," arguing that both sides have misrepresented the Second Vatican Council as a rupture with the Church's past teachings.
But of late there have been some interesting signs that after six years on the job he may be flexing some pontifical muscles long unused. Consider just a few recent events...
- The Pope is becoming increasingly comfortable bypassing local episcopal synods and issuing decrees that he thinks are important to the church as a whole. I.E.. the erection of an Ordinariate for High Church Anglicans who want to convert en mass, without so much as a "by your leave" to the Catholic bishops of England and Scotland (not so affectionately known in some quarters as the "magic circle"). And then there are the decrees freeing the old mass and lifting the excommunications from the bishops of the SSPX which were widely opposed.
- The Holy See just vetoed the choice of keynote speaker at a conference for Caritas International, a major umbrella group for Roman Catholic charities. The proposed speaker was considered soft on more than a few doctrinal issues. Rome is making it clear they will ensure that the group has a properly Catholic identity before granting it canonical recognition.
- Within the last six months the Pope has sacked at least three bishops for serious deviations from church doctrine and or discipline. Note; these were not passed off as "early retirements." They were fired by the Pope and Rome wanted everyone to know it. I can not remember any instance in my lifetime where such a thing has happened.
- Rorate Caeli now reports that the Pope has suppressed a 500 year old monastery for among other things "grave liturgical abuses."
Time will tell.