Another Perspective

Getting Pope Francis Wrong

His conservative critics put politics over God’s word.

By 10.4.13

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Writing in the American Conservative, John Zmirak had a few choice words regarding Pope Francis’ recent interview with an Italian Jesuit journal: “We ought to greet papal mistakes with solemn sadness, earnest prayer, and respectful attempts at correction.”

Big of him.

Now, in these very pages, we get this curious, Jane-Fonda-obsessed, anti-Jesuit attack from George Neumayr: "Last week we learned from Pope Francis that the Church is too preoccupied with the killing of unborn children…"

The lambaste continued. At a time when the U.S. is — in the American Conservative's Patrick Deenan's phrase — increasingly split into a nation of two economic classes, the meritocratic elite and an increasingly poor, even third-world economic class of underemployed who gather in large ghetto areas with poor public services but plentiful distractions, Neumayr chides the pontiff for being too mindful of the jobless.

Why all this hate for the Holy Father?

As Zmirak the conspiracy theorist breathlessly explained: “The pope’s most controversial statements seem to arise from a single motive: He doesn’t like ‘right-wing’ Catholics, and wants to make it clear to all the world that he’s not one of them.” According to Zmirak, the pope puts all traditional, Latin-mass loving Catholics in the same boat as the vile dictators of his former homeland.

Sorry, but that boat doesn't float.

Nonetheless many conservative Catholics have reviled this pope since the first days of his papacy when he visited the island of Lampedusa and spoke out against the “globalization of indifference” that leads to the drowning deaths of so many migrants seeking a better life. Then, adding insult to injury, the Holy Father washed the feet of a Muslim girl during Holy Week.

I suppose a real pope would visit Wall Street and advocate for a tax cut for big business.

So what exactly did the pope say to cause such a collective hissy fit? Quoth Francis: 

We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods.... The teaching of the church… is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.

As for gays, Pope Francis reiterated simply, “If they accept the Lord and have goodwill, who am I to judge them?” To me, this sounds very much like the Nazarene who “welcomed and dined with sinners for they needed him most,” a messiah who was poor among the poor.

HYSTERICS ASIDE, what Francis clearly intended was to say was that the Church remains quite clear on the immorality of homosexuality, abortion, etc., but by focusing solely on these sins, we divert ourselves from those good deeds that are expressly required of us: feeding the hungry, welcoming strangers,  clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned. If you are protesting against abortion one day and visiting inmates in prison the next, you earn two Gold Stars in heaven. But too often it is conservatives who march outside abortion mills and liberals who clothe the naked. And never the twain shall meet.

Like Francis, Jesus was quite familiar with the immorality of his times. Evil abounded in the Roman world. There was slavery. There was abortion. There was legal pedophilia. And yes, there was a great deal of homosexuality. How often did Jesus speak of these? How about never? How often did he call homosexuality an “intrinsic disorder,” à la Pope Benedict? As for prostitution: “He who is without sin cast the first stone.”

Perhaps he was too busy preaching his gospel of love and repentance. First and foremost Christ preached that the end times were near and that we should repent of our sins. He asked us to take suffering upon ourselves rather than inflict it upon others. Most of all to serve. In the words of Francis speaking at Rome's Casal del Marmo prison for minors: “Help one another. This is what Jesus teaches us.”

Charlotte Allen, writing in the Los Angeles Times, said “Francis is the first pope of the Next Christendom.” I would put it a bit differently. This is a pope who is less interested in modernity and mundane politics and more intent on the word of God. And that word is for all time.

Photo: UPI

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About the Author
Christopher Orlet writes from St. Louis.