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Is Francis Flogging Conservative Catholics?

Religion News Service reporter David Gibson is really enjoying himself these days. The left-leaning journalist has been playing first horn for the media trumpet section covering the fledgling pontificate of Jorge Mario Bergolio. In an August 8 RNS wire article, Gibson ostensibly gives voice to conservative Catholic concerns about Pope Francis’s “new direction.” In thinly veiled triumphalist language, he laughs his way through a string of quotes from orthodox quasi-luminaries (like Jeffrey Tucker, Raymond Arroyo, and someone named Katrina Fernandez, whose claim to fame is a blog) designed to show that, after thirty-five years of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, the pontifical tables have finally turned. Now, he suggests, you right-wingers will see how it feels, how much it hurts to be at loggerheads with the Supreme Pontiff.

It is important to note that Gibson’s article, “Pope Francis Is Unsettling — and Dividing — the Catholic Right,” is just another example of the media’s extended honeymoon treatment of a new Pope, about whom they know next to nothing: reportage thrown together haphazardly to create the effect of dissension, upheaval, confusion, and general disenchantment among the so-called Catholic Right.

Gibson begins with the dubious assertion that, for the past three decades, “the Vatican of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI operated on a version of the conservative maxim, ‘No enemies to the right.'” That’s disingenuous, and a veteran like Gibson ought to know better. Has he so quickly forgotten both Popes’ struggles with the leadership of the Society of St. Pius X (especially now-banished Bishop Richard Williamson) and the silencing and exile of Fr. Marcial Maciel and the virtual dismantling of his Legion of Christ, arguably the premier conservative Catholic congregation of the past two decades? How can Gibson pretend to know nothing of the harsh criticism conservatives heaped on John Paul II for his approach to pontifical liturgical celebrations, his kissing of the Koran, his participation in the ecumenical prayer festivals at Assisi and the annual World Youth Days, his authorization of the revised Code of Canon Law, and his seeming lack of concern over the priestly sex scandals? Why does Gibson choose to ignore both Popes’ criticisms of Western consumerism, the excesses of capitalism, and the lack of due concern for the most vulnerable among us — sore subjects for members of the Catholic Right? Has he never heard of Centissimus Annus, Pope John Paul II’s 1991 encyclical on Catholic social teachings, much beloved by Pope Francis? Hardly a case of “no enemies to the right.”

Contrary to the media-manufactured myth, neither John Paul nor Benedict went on witch hunts to ensnare imagined theological or liturgical enemies on the left as part of some perverse political vendetta. Part of any Pope’s duty is to maintain the integrity of the faith — and sometimes that means disciplining theologians and other churchmen who have deviated from the mainstream of Church doctrine so much that they are leading the faithful astray. Gibson invokes bad-old-days rhetoric to suggest that in the near future, under the sunny skies of the Francis pontificate, liberation theologians, clown-Mass advocates, and wanna-be womenpriests can come back out to play without having to fear heavy-handed reprisals from some pontifical boogeyman.

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