It’s been a challenging few weeks for serious Catholics. By “challenging” I suppose I mean difficult, and by “serious” I mean those who live rather than edit their Catholicism. So much has already been written about the pope’s extensive interview that I am not going to re-address the details here. The tragedy was that the New York Times, rather than the Bishops and the Church, had the first opportunity to distill and interpret what the Holy Father said, which is rather like asking a racist to explain Martin Luther King to the world.
The pope did not condemn pro-lifers and moral conservatives, did not change a word of Church teaching, did not de-emphasize Confession and the Eucharist, but merely challenged the way we present all of this to the secular world. Remember, this is a man who just excommunicated a priest who publicly campaigned for female ordination and same-sex marriage, and I can’t recall a pope speaking so often about the threat of Satan.
We must also remember that the future priests, bishops, cardinals, and even popes will be highly orthodox, because only highly orthodox young men are entering the seminaries. They may not be old-rite liturgists, they may not use Latin in the Mass, but they are the most orthodox and morally conservative generation of clergy in centuries.
The problem is not the pope’s approach or the pope himself, but those in the Church who are not as holy and good as Francis, and who will throw themselves at anything they see as a crack in the door and try to smash it off its hinges. Just as withVatican II, we will likely hear a great deal about “the spirit of Francis,” which will be less about Francis than about his alleged spirit. Abuse of “the spirit” of Vatican II has led to incalculable damage to the Church and pain to its people. Poor Vatican II, so abused by the unscrupulous.
Let’s be candid here. Under Pope Benedict many of us felt more secure and confident than ever before. Pope John Paul II was a man of enormous charisma and achievement, but there were some dreadful episcopal appointments under him, the abuse crisis was not handled properly, and liturgy was allowed to wander. He had, though, restored the Church’s heart, and Benedict was in the process of restoring its mind. I am sorry, but his resignation is not an indication of humility but of failure. Good Lord, if we are to sometimes criticize Pope Francis, we cannot treat Pope Benedict as if he were beyond opinion.
Yet fundamental to all this is the belief we hold as Catholics that the pope is the successor to St. Peter, given the authority of the Church by Christ Jesus. If this isn’t so, then Apostolic succession, Church authority and teaching, the whole shebang is pointless. If the pope, every pope, is not the appointed one, the Catholic Church is no more correct than the Anglican. So, spare me your theological wrangling and talk of Paul rebuking Peter. He’s the pope for God’s sake; he is, precisely, the pope for God’s sake, the sake of God.
Of course it’s acutely unsettling seeing abortionists gloating and anti-Catholic chat showhosts mocking, and probably more so watching the glee with which dissident clergy receive and then twist every statement the pope makes. But remember what I said earlier: the latter tend to be older and close to ending their careers. As such, some of them have positions of authority because younger, more devout men need more experience to qualify; but their time will come, and is gloriously inevitable.
We are refined and sharpened by what makes us feel uncomfortable. We are made stronger by the fire. We grow intellectually flabby and religiously complacent by too much comfort and joy. Do not shuffle into the bunker of despair and resignation shaking your head, but walk tall and proud into the public square of debate and evangelization.
Remember, there are those on the right as well as the left of the Church who will pervert the pope’s messages. They thrive on tired cynicism, conspiracy, and misplaced nostalgia, and it’s as harmful—if not as influential—as the relativism and liberalism that have enjoyed too much power since the 1960s. These are authentically revolutionary times, and the end result will be a lot more encouraging and truly Catholic than you might think.
Michael Coren’s website is michaelcoren.com. His new book, The Future of Catholicism (Signal Books) was published in November 2013.