Three priests, the first two of whom I am privileged to call friends, offer their thoughts on Pope Francis.
First, Fr. Martin Fox of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, answers the question, “What do I do if I don’t like the Pope?” Here’s his conclusion:
When Pope Francis talks about the economy, and markets, and caring for the poor, he doesn’t wipe away what all his predecessors said; he intends his words to be an added commentary. Very frankly, I prefer what Pope John Paul II wrote on this subject; but I think the differences are more a matter of emphasis than fundamental content. I had the benefit, in the seminary, of reading a hundred years of papal documents on the social teaching of the Church, and that gives perspective.
In any case, Pope Francis knows that he’s building on what John Paul II did. And in any case, we owe both of them our heedful attention.
But what if someone says, I don’t like what Pope Francis said here–or did there? Is that person a bad Catholic?
No; no more than if you say the same about your parent, that makes you a bad son or daughter. It’s more in how you say it, and how you approach your mother or father overall.
While renouncing the notion that the market alone is sufficient to meet all human needs, Francis is also prepared to denounce a “welfare mentality” that creates a dependency on the part of the poor and reduces the Church to the role of being just another bureaucratic NGO. The complexity of his thought surprises some, on both the Right (some of whom worry, needlessly, that he is a liberation theologian) and the Left (who are already using his words to foment a political “Francis Revolution” in his name). Such tendencies reveal a rather anemic understanding of this man but also of Catholicism, which has historically been comfortable balancing the tensions of apparent paradoxes (Divine/human; Virgin/Mother; etc.). It is too facile a temptation to collapse 2,000 years of tradition, commentary and lived experience into four or five politically-correct hot button sound bites that are the priority, not of the Church, but of propagandists with an agenda.
And lastly, Fr. Raymond J. De Souza of Canada reflects on Time magazine awarding Francis its “Person of the Year” prize, largely by situating him vis-à-vis his two immediate predecessors:
The 20th century posed three enormous challenges, not only to the Church, but to all of Western civilization. The first was from “above,” the totalitarian state seeking to crush all social institutions, including marriage, family and the church. The second was from “below,” the sexual revolution and its attendant social changes, which undermined marriage, family and the church. The third was in the entire intellectual environment, in which the possibility of knowing the truth at all, especially moral truth, was radically questioned.
It is possible to understand John Paul II and Benedict XVI as two parts of an epic, world-changing, 35-year pontificate, which went into battle on all three fronts. Call it “police work” or manning the barricades or clambering aboard the ark in rough waters — it was necessary. If Francis now is able to return to what the Church usually does in times of relative tranquility, it is because of what went before. Does the Church appear to be more attractive under Francis? Time is right about that, for she is attempting to be more of who she properly is.
There is a lot to ponder in all three pieces.