Trendy Commentators Have Fallen in Love with a Pope of their Own Invention
Luke Coppen, Editor of the brilliant Catholic Herald, has written a really good piece in the Spectator which addresses the constant stream of mis-information which surrounds the papacy currently.
It seems, every day, there is a new drama surrounding something the Pope has said to someone. Usually, I find myself in a position where it is quite hard to work out why there is a problem. I haven't read anything that the Pope has said that deviates from Catholic teaching, and it usually is quite difficult to understand how he has been so badly mis-represented or spun. In the case of Pope Francis' words on abortion and sexual matters for example, he did not tell us to stop talking about these things; he said that they should not be talked to the exclusion of all else. This is obvious, the mission of the church is Caritas - charity, love – if it is anything at all. Modernity thinks it knows what the Church teaches and closes its ears to what it says. Yet under Francis, this mission is being heard anew. This is a great thing! If it appears that all we are doing is talking in condemnatory terms, all the time, then the message of the Church - that is, the Gospel - is obscured. This has been illustrated very clearly by the reaction to Pope Francis from quite a few people I know, who are under the impression that he is the first Pope to talk about compassion, caring for the poor, the problems of capitalism and unfair social systems, our obligation to care for those less fortunate than ourselves, and a raft of other things that informed Catholics who read what the Church consistently teaches take for granted.
Obviously, what has changed is the way the information reaches people about what the Pope says and what he is doing. Of course, the interest of the press is somewhat of a double-edged sword, and faithful Catholics with a good knowledge of their faith cannot help but feel a little disconcerted by the media's love affair with our new Holy Father. At least we all knew where we stood when Pope Benedict XVI was Pope - they didn't like him and were bound to be nasty, irrespective of what he said. Excessive enthusiasm and "pleasant lies" are a different tactic, aren't they? We could be confident in our "counter-cultural" dialectic and take comfort from Matthew 5:11. Now the press seems to love our Holy Father and dotes on his every utterance.
Coppen nails this in his article and really gives the most lucid overview of the situation I have read so far. He begins with the following summary:
Francis has been made into a superstar of the liberal left. His humble background (he is a former bouncer), his dislike for the trappings of office (he cooks his own spaghetti) and his emphasis on the church’s concern for the poor has made liberals, even atheists like Scalfari, suppose that he is as hostile to church dogma as they are. They assume, in other words, that the Pope isn’t Catholic. Last year few left-leaning commentators could resist falling for the foot-washing Jesuit from Buenos Aires. In column after column they projected their deepest hopes on to Francis — he is, they think, the man who will finally bring enlightened liberal values to the Catholic church.
Last month America’s oldest gay magazine, the Advocate, hailed Francis as its person of the year because of the compassion he had expressed towards homosexuals. It was hardly a revolution: Article 2358 of the Catholic church’s catechism calls for gay people to be treated with ‘respect, compassion and sensitivity’. In simply restating Catholic teaching, however, Francis was hailed as a hero. When a Maltese bishop said the Pope had told him he was ‘shocked’ by the idea of gay adoption, that barely made a splash.Of course this all could lead to disaster. How long can these people continue to ignore the real message the Pope is preaching? James Bloodworth, editor of the political blog Left Foot Forward, recently urged his journalistic allies to show some restraint. ‘Pope Francis’s position on most issues should make the hair of every liberal curl,’ he wrote. ‘Instead we get article after article of saccharine from people who really should know better.’ Luke asks if Bloodworth’s remark is a sign of a coming secular backlash against the new Pope? Will they come to realise, as we Catholics thought they very soon must, that Pope Francis is not about to bless women bishops, condom use, gay marriage and abortion — and then turn on him. Coppen thinks that currently seems unlikely. Having invented the Fantasy Francis, his liberal well-wishers may never want to kill off their creation. He cites President Obama as an example of why they will not, unless, he says, Francis can be proven to be a hypocrite. Given what we know of the Pope so far, his sneaking out to feed the poor, his rejection of the rich trappings of his office, his seemingly natural simplicity, this does seem somewhat unlikely.
Wisely, Coppen also recognises the internal friction and uneasiness loyal Catholics are wrestling with because of all this:
The Vatican analyst John Allen describes this as the Pope’s ‘older son problem’ — a reference to the parable of the Prodigal Son, in which the faithful brother gripes when his father welcomes back the wayward one. Allen writes that ‘Francis basically has killed the fatted calf for the prodigal sons and daughters of the postmodern world, reaching out to gays, women, non-believers, and virtually every other constituency inside and outside the church that has felt alienated.’ But some Catholics feel Francis is taking their loyalty for granted. ‘In the Gospel parable,’ Allen notes, ‘the father eventually notices his older son’s resentment and pulls him aside to assure him: “Everything I have is yours.” At some stage, Pope Francis may need to have such a moment with his own older sons (and daughters).’Luke walks an erudite path in this piece in which he is perhaps the first person who has been able to accurately separate the fantasy Francis from the real one:
The true Francis will be moving fast throughout this year. The 77-year-old knows he must quickly finish the financial reforms launched by his predecessor Benedict XVI, overhaul the Roman Curia (which liberals and conservatives agree is in desperate need of reform), impose rigorous global norms on the handling of clerical sex abuse cases, continue to press for peace in Syria, nudge Israelis and Palestinians closer to an agreement during his Holy Land visit and oversee a contentious synod of bishops that could shift the Church’s approach to divorced and remarried Catholics.
Meanwhile, the Fantasy Francis will continue to throw out dogmas, agitate for class war and set trends in men’s fashion. But don’t be fooled: this is as much of a media-driven illusion as the idea that the Catholic church is obsessed by sex and money. What matters is what the real Francis says and does. And that should be more interesting than even the most gripping invention.