The Poor Misunderstood Pope?

November 2013

DONATE TODAY!: Join the NOR Associates

“When you express too much, you run the risk of being misunderstood,” Pope Francis admitted in his lengthy interview with Fr. Antonio Spadaro, S.J., published this September in Jesuit magazines across the world. So, has the Holy Father been misunderstood? It’s been amusing to watch impassioned commentators try to explain away the Pope’s interview, putting their rosiest spin on his words: “The media took the Pope out of context” or “He just wants a more pastoral Church.” But a hard question must be asked: Why is it that gay-rights advocates and abortion promoters are lauding Pope Francis for his words, while many faithful Catholics are perplexed and apprehensive?

Conservative Catholic commentators have gone out of their way to assure us that the Holy Father hasn’t contradicted Church teaching or changed Church doctrine. That much is true. When popes give interviews they typically say “nothing new” — that is, if we’re talking about defining Church doctrine on matters of faith and morals. Interviews, nevertheless, can cause a host of problems (recall Pope Benedict XVI’s famous condoms comment; see our New Oxford Note “Condom-mania, the Rerun,” Jan.-Feb. 2011), especially when the Church is not prepared for the fallout. This time around, although secular media outlets received advance copies of the text under embargo, bishops and their spokesmen did not.

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, for example, said that it was a “blessing” to have been “away from the United States on September 19 when Jesuit magazines around the world released the Pope’s remarks.” He returned home to a deluge of e-mails. “Some people grasped at the interview like a lifeline — or a vindication,” he wrote in Catholic Philadelphia (Sept. 25). “One person praised the Holy Father for stressing that the ‘Church must focus on compassion and mercy, not on enforcing small-minded rules.’ She added that ‘we’re at last free from the chains of hatred that have ruled the Catholic Church for so many years and led to my unease in bringing my own children into that Church.’” But most of the e-mails the archbishop received were from catechists, priests, and laymen who felt confused or disillusioned by the interview: “A priest said the Pope ‘has implicitly accused brother priests who are serious about moral issues of being small minded,’ and that ‘[if you’re a priest,] being morally serious is now likely to get you publicly cast as a problem.’ Another priest wrote that ‘the problem is that [the Holy Father] makes all of the wrong people happy, people who will never believe in the Gospel and who will continue to persecute the Church.’”

Consider that the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) jumped on the effusive-praise bandwagon and posted a “Thank you” to Francis from “Pro-choice women everywhere” on Facebook, while the Human Rights Campaign, a “lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender” advocacy group, tweeted an image with the words, “Dear Pope Francis, thank you. — LGBT people everywhere.”

You have two options:

  1. Online subscription: Subscribe now to New Oxford Review for access to all web content at AND the monthly print edition for as low as $38 per year.
  2. Single article purchase: Purchase this article for $1.95, for viewing and printing for 48 hours.

If you're already a subscriber log-in here.

New Oxford Notes: November 2013

Read our posting policy Add a comment
In my opinion, this is a superb analysis of what Pope Francis has said and done thus far. I agree that it is damaging to the faithful and the Church in general.
Pope Francis thinks like most liberals do. But Jesus wasn't a liberal. He loved the poor and He healed the sick but He reserved His harshest words for those who say one thing and do another and give scandal to the innocent. The hierarchy is full of people like that. Catholic politics is full of people like that, including a powerful gay lobby that is wreaking havoc with the culture. But according to the pope, we are not to judge. Jesus did. He spoke of fire and brimstone and millstones for those who act this way. I thought the Holy Father was His voice here on earth. Apparently not. And this is not new. Pope Benedict and Pope John Paul II certainly were not as ambiguous as this pope, but they too did little or nothing to stem the flow of Catholics leaving the Church or to discipline the clergy who were consistently giving grave scandal or covering it up. In many instances, members of the hierarchy were rewarded for their evil deeds. The Church has been in big trouble for a long time.
Christ promised He would never abandon His Church. Faithful Catholics must cling to that for now. In the end, He will triumph.
Posted by: MGRagan
November 20, 2013 07:15 AM EST
I think this Pope has done an excellent job of taking the homosexual altar boy scandals off of the front page. But it seems to be at a cost of being ambiguous in his teachings. If he is saying that we need to change the emphasis of the church away from pro-life and anti-homosexuality to social justice, then I think he is wrong. We can have both. It's not an either/or scenario.

And until changes the catechism, his interviews mean little to the informed Catholic. The Cathechism is the official teaching of the Church, not an off-the-cuff interview with a pagan journalist...
Posted by: TEXASAG731
November 29, 2013 05:59 PM EST
Add a comment