A Response to ‘Is the Pope Catholic?’

Blogger’s Note: I agree with much of what Meddlesome says in his series below – and I must admit an inferior education on certain points that he raises. Nevertheless, I draw somewhat different conclusions than he about our Holy Father, and at risk of showing my ignorance, I suppose I’ll share them.

First, let me articulate my own stance regarding obedience to the Pope as best I can.  Generally, I try to be deferential, assuming the wisdom and intentionality of the Holy Father and giving him the benefit of the doubt. This is not the same as blind obedience – I believe we should question and investigate as we can, and if and when a pope, a bishop, or our parish priest is demonstrably in error, we should speak up. Barring that, however, I tend to be extremely cautious in my pronouncements. It cannot be easy to be a man of the cloth in this age, let alone the head of the Universal Church, visible on the world stage. And indeed, he is pope for the world, which makes my own cultural perspective, needs, and wants in a pope somewhat less relevant. My default mode, then, is vocal support for the Pope and the clergy insofar as I can offer it, and when I have misgivings, to investigate them quietly amongst friends (as we are doing here) and to look equally as intently into my own heart to see if my misgivings are from without, or from within.

So – as I’ve shared with this group before, I also have concerns about some of the statements Pope Francis has made and how they’ve been played and interpreted in the media. I have wondered aloud at his comfort level in speaking on the record and off the cuff, and indeed his own comments suggest he acknowledges some discomfort in relating to the media. Yet he continues to grant interviews, to answer questions too simply, and to insist on a kinder, gentler evangelization.

Does he not realize what he’s doing? Is he naïve or misguided?  His simple and warm message may do little for those of us who are firm in our faith, but it appears to draw people and attention to himself and the Church. The medicine of the Church is just as potent as ever and is still hard for some to swallow – in this context, however, I wouldn’t consider Pope Francis’s recent statements and approach to be treatment or therapy so much as bedside manner. I think of a conversation I had not long ago with a local crisis pregnancy counselor who said her organization had to change its name and downplay its religious affiliation in order to save lives. To treat the patient, we have to get her in the door!

And if we who know the teachings of the Church are firm in our faith, what are we afraid of? The simple Catholics are simple, the confounded Catholics are confounded — but they, and the lost perhaps, like what they hear and turn toward the light. If any of them choose to dig more deeply into faith of our Holy Father and the teachings of the Church, they will find the Rock unmoved and themselves closer than ever to the Truth.

When I examine my own discomfort with our Holy Father’s remarks, I worry that I may be becoming the older brother from the parable, unwilling to approach the forgiving father because he has lavished attention on his sinful younger son who has been away so long. Or perhaps an embittered sheep, thinking the shepherd negligent for leaving the obedient herd to call to the lost lamb?

If I look closer, and if I’m honest, I can feel God at work in me – pushing me to more actively live my faith. I remember the younger man I used to be, preparing for marriage and upset that the Church would expect further chastity from me once we spoke our vows: I’ve followed the rules—when is enough enough?

Answer: It’s never enough. We can always do more. And we should. Joyfully.

We live in a world – and we specifically, in a country – in which its easy to keep those who need Christ at arms-length, and increasingly hard to live our faith publicly without reprisal. Am I not grown comfortable? Did I, myself, not recently raise the question of whether the time had come to circle the wagons and preserve the Catholic faith for whatever society will rise from the ashes of this one?

I tend to think our Holy Father knows exactly what he’s doing and is keeping it simple on purpose – to call to others and to challenge us. Pope Francis is reminding me, in his way, to be a missionary. To love my enemies. To embrace the unhuggably ugly in this world and show them the light. To acknowledge a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and invite others to the same. I’m scared to unabashedly answer that call, but how can answer for myself if I don’t?


  1. Didymus says:

    I find myself all too often struggling with the need for humility when I read the Holy Father’s interviews. I understand that there may be translation inaccuracies in what we read, as he is often giving interviews about spiritual things to people who know nothing about the faith. On the other hand, that is what is going to happen when you choose to communicate that way. A particular frustration of mine is that he could so easily avoid problems with a slight rephrasing. For example, a few days ago I read that he said (paraphrasing, I can’t find the quote) that popes “often” are narcissists in love with the trappings of the Vatican, or words to that effect. I recall thinking that as reported, one might easily assume he was taking shots at Pope Benedict XVI and his red shoes. In addition, the use of the word often is vague but ominous – is it more than 50%? Have over half of our popes been narcissists? Had he simply stated “In the long history of the church, there have unfortunately been some popes who…” there would be no argument and no possible controversy. But that leads to the next point. Why is it even being brought up? There isn’t a pope in the last 100 years who wasn’t a good and holy man, so why is that even being discussed? In fairness, I did not read the transcript of the entire interview so it is possible he made a qualification somewhere else, but guess what – almost no one else is reading the entire thing either.

    I hope that as the successor of Peter he is wildly successful in his invitation for more people to come to know and love Christ. May all my misgivings be proven to be those of a short-sighted, stubborn blockhead who didn’t have a clue about how to communicate the message of God’s saving grace to the world. In essentials unity, in non-essentials freedom, in all things charity.

    • Timshel says:

      I share some of your concerns about phrasing and topics selection. I’ve worked with communicators in the past who were too friendly and casual with the press and would go in like and open book, without a plan. It’s a bad idea, generally. I also know in my own case how I struggle to “improvise” answers to difficult questions, particularly when I’m emotionally invested. Media relations requires strategy, not simply openness.

  2. Didymus says:

    By the way, I wrote the last sentence of the above comment before reading Meddlesome’s comment on the previous article. Great minds think alike, just not apparently in the same language.

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