Much ballyhoo is being generated by the mainstream media over comments made by Pope Francis in an interview with Civiltà Cattolica (in Italian). The pope, however, posited absolutely nothing radical. In his frank, no frills way of engaging in a back-and-forth, he warned against turning the faith into an ideology, and spoke eloquently about the necessity of always seeing the person first and foremost as a child of God before any sin he may be committing. That is beautiful, but nothing revolutionary. It’s the perennial message of Christ and of the Gospel. The irony is that if anyone is guilty of strong-arming the faith into an ideological weapon, it is those on the left. Liberation Theology, and any leftist interpretation of Christianity, are nothing other than political ideologies with a thin religious gloss.
Of course, none of this has prevented the media from once again using Pope Francis’s comments as a wedge to divide him from Pope Benedict, and even Pope John Paul II. Let’s be honest. It is true that Francis is different from Benedict, not in fundamentals but in terms of his areas of focus. I’ll go further: there’s a lot that I really, really miss about Pope Benedict, especially his focus on liturgical beauty and its necessary role in evangelization. This is not Catholic navel gazing, but essential to the Church’s evangelical mission. That said, let’s focus on the story here, in terms of the media’s agenda and Pope Francis.
The media’s narrative goes as follows: on the one hand, you have Pope Francis and the rank and file faithful. On the other hand, you have Popes Benedict, JPII, and those blustering bishops, stodgy men beholden to mossy mandates and antediluvian axioms. These agents represent the Church of the past, destined to be swept under the rug of “tolerance” by new actors like Pope Francis whom, we are to believe, have stepped onto the world stage to bury Roman Catholicism and usher in an age of Coexist Catholicism. From the Associated Press:
VATICAN CITY (AP) — Signaling a dramatic shift in Vatican tone, Pope Francis said the Catholic Church had become obsessed by “small-minded rules” about how to be faithful and that pastors should instead emphasize compassion over condemnation when discussing divisive social issues of abortion, gays and contraception.
The pope’s remarkably blunt message six months into his papacy was sure to reverberate in the U.S. and around the globe as bishops who have focused much of their preaching on such hot-button issues are asked to act more as pastors of wounded souls.
And CBS News offers this gem of reporting:
But his [Francis’s] vision of what the church should be stands out, primarily because it contrasts so sharply with many of the priorities of his immediate predecessors, John Paul II and Benedict XVI. They were both intellectuals for whom doctrine was paramount, an orientation that guided the selection of a generation of bishops and cardinals around the globe.
Francis said the dogmatic and the moral teachings of the church were not all equivalent.
“The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently,” Francis said. “We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.”
Of course, this is nonsense. I have to say that this notion of the Church “imposing” doctrine on people helter-skelter bugs me because it feeds into a false narrative of the Church. Looking around, I don’t see a Church imposing anything, anywhere, on anyone. It was Pope John Paul II himself who said that “the Church proposes; she imposes nothing.”
The luminaries over at Healthy Living actually offer us an article entitled, “Pope Francis: Is He Actually Cool?” I’m not kidding.
Using the words “pope” and “cool” in the same sentence definitely feels like an oxymoron. But Pope Francis, elected in March, seems like he might be up for the challenge. He’s already made some heartening waves since then, and today, in his most in-depth interview since taking the helm, has crept closer to, rather than back away from, open-mindedness.
Sigh. One cliche after another. If it weren’t so dumb, it’d be insulting. Moving on…
In the interview, Francis humbly refers to himself as “a son of the Church” when talking about his obedience to the unchanging teachings of the Church on abortion, homosexuality and contraception. He only discusses how we are to address these issues today, not whether the Church’s teaching will change. Pope Francis even labels Pope Benedict’s decision to allow open access to the Latin Mass as “prudent”, hardly the take of a liberal reformer.
But here’s the problem: Pope Francis is speaking as one who understands the Church. The media is speaking about the Church without understanding it. From the media’s point of view, the Church is just another man-made political vessel, the contents of which can be emptied out and re-filled with a radically different solution. Everything is seen by the media through a political lens. With the departure of one leader, they naively think, comes the rare opportunity to change the entire institution. But what the media doesn’t get, and they never will apparently, is that even the pope is merely a “son of the Church”, not its father, much less its master.
Newsflash to the AP, Reuters, et al.: not even the pope can change truth. Time to move on.