Pope Francis: A Disappointment for Catholics Who Don't Like Being Catholic
How can we tell that the conclave made a good decision in elevating Jorge Mario Bergoglio to the papacy? Exhibit A (through at least D): liberals are annoyed. But leftists' problems with Pope Francis, well-emblazoned as they were within hours of the announcement, reveal some crucial truths about the Church that even many Catholics are loath to confront.
When it came to Benedict XVI, the willfully uninformed chattering class had a field day -- rather, a field eight years -- with the thoroughly discredited "Nazi pope" meme. (We might call noted luminary and theologian Susan Sarandon the "Nazi ambassadrix" in this effort.) In the same vein, media outlets in all corners are itching to label the new Holy Father, and despisers of the office may find purchase in Francis's hard-line -- or, to put it more accurately, quite Catholic -- stance on "gay rights" and homosexual acts.
The caviling has already started. Indeed, as Saint Peter's Square erupted with applause, and as the newly elected Pope Francis gave his first address to the Catholic faithful, Cavan Sieczkowski of the Huffington Post was already flexing his fingers for the first of a procession of disappointed jeremiads. "Pope Francis Against Gay Marriage, Gay Adoption," Sieczkowski's headline blared, with the new pontiff's vestments still settling on his shoulders. He quotes GLAAD President Herndon Graddick, who decries a "Catholic hierarchy ... in need of desperate reform."
There's more to this lashing out than just "Francis the Homophobe." From the parade of hand-wringing gay activists in Sieczkowski's piece to the aggrieved commentators at Mother Jones, what really dismays the dismayed is the inflexibility not just of Francis, but of the Church herself. At MJ, we read, "I think this is a missed opportunity to bring the papacy closer to where the people are," and even at Forbes, John Baldoni, an ardent admirer of the Jesuits (Francis's order), writes of "a Catholic Church that is resistant to change but one that must certainly adapt (and rather radically) if it is going to continue to attract well-intentioned men and women who adhere to its faith but also are willing to devote themselves to its perpetuation."
As for leftists from the likes of HuffPo, these are the same people who were disappointed when Vatican II didn't result in female priests and an ecclesiastical shrug of the shoulders on marriage. What they share with Baldoni and other beaters of the "resistant to change" drum is a fundamental misunderstanding of Catholicism.
Granted: in a representative republic like the United States, where a dedicated force can use public opinion to effect sweeping social change, it can be hard not to project a similar democratic system onto the Catholic Church. The same temptation proliferates when professedly Catholic politicians wave around misleading polls about the number of Catholic women who use contraception -- implying that, as in a democracy, a majority of people wanting something should be grounds for rewriting policy. And when other professed Catholics aggressively seek to cement their state's position as the abortion capital of the world, it's hard to blame outsiders looking into the Church when they throw their hands up in plain bafflement.
But of course, all these people are seeking to define the Church policy based on the opinions or actions of a single (albeit highly visible) Catholic, or from a group of Catholics. This can't work, because we all sin. Catholics acknowledge that we all fall short of the glory of God. So how could any individual Catholic indicate in full the tenets of the Church? (And no, not even the pope does this. He knows -- probably better than most of us -- better than to try.) How could any group of Catholics, with their discrete sins, do any better?
In short, here's the thing about the Catholic Church that cannot be repeated enough: she is not a democracy. There is no veto power against the Word of God; as the cliché goes, God does not change to accommodate the Catholic. The Catholic changes to accommodate Him. (When even avowed atheist Penn Jillette is strongly defending this point -- against a Catholic, no less! -- we know we're approaching objective truth.)
Catholics acknowledge that Jesus Christ gave his flock a pope and the Magisterium -- the former to lead, and the latter to teach. (By the way, both of these precede the Bible -- and, it bears repeating, they came directly from Jesus.) So we Catholics count on the Holy Spirit to guide the Magisterium, and we count on the Magisterium to guide us. Even if 98% of American women use birth control (preposterous), that doesn't entitle Catholics to vote on whether the Pill is no longer sinful. No matter how much activists like Herndon Gladdick clamor for an ex-cathedra embrace of homosexual behavior, Catholics are not entitled to rewrite the Catechism (nor Romans 1, for that matter, nor Matthew 19).
And if we're talking about laws revealed to us by an everlasting, all-powerful, all-knowing God, what could make more sense than that?
So those who blast Pope Francis for his "doctrinaire" stand on marriage, family, and homosexuality need to remember that the leader of the Catholic Church is always going to be pretty solid on Catholic doctrine. And those who furrow their brows over a Church "resistant to change" should recall that (according to Catholics, at least), the Word of God is eternal, therefore resistance to change sounds not half-bad.
So what's the best that Catholics can hope for from Pope Francis? Namely, that he keep doing what he's been doing. The man who forsook a mansion and a chauffeured limousine in favor of "a simple bed in a downtown room heated by a small stove" can teach us a lot about holy living, if we'll listen. And if he has strong words against the dissolution of marriage or against homosexual couples adopting children, dissenters must remember that, like it or not, the Catholic Church does condemn homosexual acts as sinful -- but as Pope Francis knows, Jesus enjoins us to love the sinner even more strongly than we hate the sin. So we should have little patience for accusations of homophobia or cruelty against the man who kisses and washes the feet of AIDS victims and drug addicts.
We have a new pontiff who has made his lifestyle a breathtaking example of humility and poverty -- who has eschewed sensual pleasures and bodily ease to better turn his thoughts and his will toward Christ. Catholics can look on our Holy Father as an exemplar of how to show boundless love and compassion for people from all walks of life, all the while holding fast to the God-given principles that spur the functioning of our society.
This is a beautiful thing. Catholics should cherish Pope Francis for as long as we have him, and it won't hurt for those outside the faith to see what he can teach them.
...In fact, best start learning from our Holy Father immediately. "Little patience"? On second thought, we should have a lot of patience. With all we've got on the horizon, we'll need it.
Drew Belsky is American Thinker's deputy editor. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.