In a front-page Washington Post story about the soft style of Pope Francis, Gregory Popcak, who is described as a “marriage and family counselor on the radio and in private practice in Ohio,” related an anecdote about a client who quit therapy on the grounds that “I’m much more of a Pope Francis-Nancy Pelosi Catholic, and you’re an old-school, Pope John Paul II Catholic.”
That story, which is unfolding across many dioceses, captures the tediously trumpeted “Francis effect” perfectly. Nancy Pelosi, for that matter, illustrates the phenomenon. She too sees herself as a Pope Francis-Nancy Pelosi Catholic. Pope Francis is “starting to sound like a nun,” she gushed recently, meaning presumably a silly and left-wing one.
Of course, the cardinal of Washington, D.C., Donald Wuerl, another beaming expert on the Francis effect, keeps the Communion line open for Pelosi no matter how many unborn babies she votes to kill. Cardinal Raymond Burke, who is the foremost authority on canon law as the head of the Vatican Supreme Court, has said repeatedly that priests should deny her Holy Communion. But Wuerl refuses, saying, simultaneously, that denial isn’t “pastoral” and sniffing that Pelosi isn’t a member of “his flock.” That comically craven and contradictory copout is all one needs to know about the emptiness of “pastoral” Catholicism.
Meanwhile, the Pope Francis-Nancy Pelosi Catholics can’t stop thinking about tomorrow. The New York Times is positively giddy about the liberal destruction in store for the Church under Pope Francis. Bill Keller, its former executive editor, once described himself as a “collapsed Catholic.” Now its columnist Timothy Egan has coined a new description: “lapsed but listening.”
“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires,” predicted St. Paul of worldly Christians. Egan’s ears are certainly tickling at the relativistic noises of Pope Francis.
At long last, exults Egan, a New York Times-friendly liberal occupies the chair of St. Peter:
Pope Francis has shown himself to be a free spirit and a free thinker. He loves the music of Mozart, the paintings of Chagall, the films of Fellini. He tweets. He talks to atheists. He stays out of politics. He calls for the faithful to “mess up the church.” He doesn’t moralize or sermonize, and famously said, when asked about gays, “Who am I to judge?” Is this pope Catholic?…Francis has befuddled the guardians of dogma and medieval sexual doctrines who have long kept sunlight out of the Vatican. He is — gasp — a liberal.
God’s Rottweiler has gone to pasture and the Pope’s poodles are roaming free and happy. “People come up to me all the time on the street or at a restaurant and say things like, ‘I just need to tell someone how much I like this pope of yours,’” Father Stephen Sundborg, the Jesuit president of Seattle University, told Egan. “Suddenly, it seems O.K. to be a priest out there.”
Egan, whose knowledge of the Jesuits dates to about the 1960s and conveniently ignores the unapologetic conservatism of St. Ignatius of Loyola, writes confidently that the “Jesuits have always tried to get people to think for themselves, to arrive at belief through an arduous process. When bishops started telling parishioners that their gay and lesbian siblings were sinners, and that family planning was a grievous wrong, people stopped listening to them — for good reason.”
Lost on Egan, as he recites all the dismal stats on fallen-away Catholics, is that this decline corresponds to a liberal, not conservative, period in the life of the Church. The pews of the big bad pre-Vatican II Church were full; the pews of “pastoral” Francis-style Jesuit shepherds are empty.
At the field hospitals of the Catholic left, the sheep have choked and died on the “medicine of mercy,” the euphemism for people-pleasing heterodoxy among spirit-of-Vatican II liberals. There is no reason to suppose a strengthened dose will raise any of the patients from the dead.
The Egans and Kellers will remain lapsed even if they are “listening” to Francis with itching ears, for all they hear is a confirmation of their smug apostasy.