The New York Times, for better or for worse, is considered the newspaper of record in America. Its editorials nearly always oppose the Catholic Church's teachings and its articles usually favor the Church only when a pope or another prominent Catholic breaks with tradition. Every so often there is a rare exception.
The paper's lone conservative, full-time columnist, Ross Douthat, is a welcome exception to the op-ed page's stale predictability. He has written pieces that have been controversial even in conservative Catholic circles and has observed trends such as, "France is also a country with a very strong traditionalist Catholic presence -- there might be as many French priests in various Latin Mass orders, separated and not, by 2040 as there are priests in the diocesan clergy and non-traditionalist orders -- which has its own interesting implications for the future of the much-reduced Catholic presence."
The newest post by Mr. Douthat takes a look at Pope Francis and his critics. He divides them (us, actually) into three camps -- traditionalists; Catholic economic conservatives and libertarians; and doctrinal conservatives:
1. Traditionalists. These are Catholics defined by their preference/zeal for the Tridentine Rite Mass and their rejection of (or at least doubts about) various reforms of the Second Vatican Council. Some attend mainstream parishes that offer the mass in Latin, others are affiliated with orders specifically organized around the old rite, others are connected to parishes run by the (arguably; it’s a long argument) schismatic Society of Saint Pius X. There’s lots of variation within traditionalist ranks (my friend Michael Brendan Dougherty, ... is a “trad” of a different sort than, say, this fellow), but the important things to emphasize are first, that their numbers (in the American context and otherwise) are quite small; second, that their concerns are not usually the same as those of the typical John Paul II-admiring conservative Catholic (traditionalists were often not admirers of the Polish pope); and third, that their skepticism of Pope Francis was probably inevitable and pretty clearly mutual.
For instance, [The New Republic magazine's Elizabeth] Bruenig notes that Rorate Caeli, a traditionalist site, greeted Jorge Bergoglio’s election by describing him as “a sworn enemy of the traditional Mass.” But what she doesn’t mention is that as Francis, he has often vindicated those fears: He has demoted the traditional mass’s most prominent champion within the Vatican, cracked down on a prominent traditionalist order, and frequently singled out traditionalist tendencies and practices for criticism in his remarks. Traditionalism has, it’s fair to say, a paranoid streak and then some, but even paranoids have enemies, and since the Tridentine mass was essentially suppressed in much of the church for a generation and more, Francis’s moves have not exactly been calculated to reassure Catholics of this persuasion about their place within the church.
This doesn’t mean traditionalists are “right” and the pope is “wrong.” (If you want to understand where Francis might be coming from, consider that the SSPX seminary in Argentina during his years as archbishop of Buenos Aires was run by this charmer.) But it means that the conflict here has very specific contours, and the stakes involved are distinctive and not particularly influenced by, say, Francis’s social and economic vision (which some traditionalists find entirely congenial; see this Rorate Caeli post for an example). Which makes it very different from my second case study …
This is a columnist who does his homework and understands in great measure the distinctions within Catholic circles today, unlike most U.S. Catholic magazines, newspapers, websites and blogs, with their simplistic politically liberal versus politically conservative views.
The Church is complex, and so are her communicants. Some favor reforms of centuries-old doctrine, Scriptural moral teachings, immemorial liturgy and the Sacraments established by the Lord Himself -- and some favor Sacred Scripture and Tradition.