A pope for our time

The new year is arbitrary, really, a contrived date to jolt us into novelty, remind us of chronology, mark the progress of time, achievement, failure, success. The Church calendar has a different climate and rhythm and one that is altogether more significant and meaningful. But the secular annual does oblige us to look ahead and, as Catholics, to wonder what the coming year will bring.

Something we should all remember and embrace is the reality that popes come and go but the Church remains. I say this not to criticize Pope Francis but to reassure those who feel uneasy at some of the things he appears to say and do—reality and reporting can be radically different! Relatively little will change under this pontiff in 2014, and even if it does there is every chance that a successor will behave differently. How many of you, for example, thought in the 1960s that Popes John Paul and Benedict would repair much if not all of the damage that had been done before them?

But while it could be argued that Pope Francis has perhaps said too much too often, thus opening himself up to misinterpretation by the agenda-driven, he has also renewed the conversation between the Church and the world, and that can only be a good thing. I have seen no indications of dilution of Church teaching, and in spite of a few mistranslations—some willful, some accidental—we’re still hated by the people it’s good to be hated by.

Just after Christmas, for example, it was revealed that a controversial sermon by Bishop Charles Scicluna of Malta condemning gay adoption was delivered at the prompting of the pope himself. The Maltese prelate told the media that he met the Holy Father, “and when I raised the issue that’s worrying me as a bishop [the right for gay couples to adopt] he encouraged me to speak out.” The pope was apparently “shocked” to learn that Malta’s proposed civil union legislation allows for adoption. When he was a Cardinal in Argentina he had preached against same-sex adoption and described gay marriage as being “diabolically inspired.”

Hardly the stuff of secular relativism, and something that even Pope Benedict might not have said. We shouldn’t be too concerned about the media twisting Francis’ words about not judging gay priests searching for God. Surely he was speaking of one man in particular, who had mastered his sinful behavior, and if we construe anything greater it is that those with same-sex attractions can resist their temptation if they search for God. That’s heretical to a liberal on more levels than I can count.

It is, frankly, nauseating to see some of the hypocrites in the Church dancing around this papacy and throwing salt into open wounds and obscuring the light with their obvious and clawing ambition. But it’s always been that way, even when such sordid people had genuine power and actually mattered. Read Dante and Chaucer if you doubt me.

Pope Francis is better than that, and sees through the climbers and the compromisers. Have faith in the choice of the Holy Spirit and the fact that it was Jesus who gave us Peter and the Papacy, and that 2014 poses far fewer threats and challenges than new years past.

Traditional forms of worship will not be encouraged but the times of virtual persecution are gone. Old bishops clinging on to 60s leftism are moribund, often literally, and the younger priests and Church leaders are generally splendid. A few liberal time-servers are still around and will continue to do some damage but their day is largely gone. The orthodox, conservative newspapers, websites, radio, and television stations will still dominate and their left-wing rivals will continue to be sustained by grants and gifts rather than readers and enthusiasm. EWTN and US Catholic TV and radio are bigger and better than ever.

With the greatest respect, do we remember Thomas More or Pope Paul III, the martyr Bishop John Fisher or his contemporary the careerist priest Stephen Gardiner? In other words, the Church blossoms and triumphs through all sorts of men and women, some of them popes and some not. The real meaning of the Church of the Poor is the Church of everybody, even those despised and rejected as terrible conservatives—such as More and Fisher and Campion. This year will be fine. Don’t trust me; trust God.