Surprisingly, since I wrote my little summary of my concerns about the things Pope Francis has been saying, most of the email I’ve been getting has been overwhelmingly positive. Even those who disagree with me have by and large done so respectfully.
But then, this afternoon, I got this:
you are a nasty racist, anti gay sexists POS a hole for only supporting rich white men who NEVER EXPERIENCED OPPRESSION!!! SCREW YOU AND YOUR STINKEN BELIEF SYSTEM!!!
I can only assume that this is because I was critical of the pope who is changing all of that. I don’t really know.
NBC published the article I was interviewed for. In ominous tones, they described my post as “scathing” and made sure to quote me on only the most conspiratorial-sounding juicy tidbits they could from the 45-minute interview. You know, about the “whispers” of unhappy Catholics.
They also quoted the single most critical sentence I wrote in the entire post, devoid of any further context. Not the whole sentence, mind you. Just the part where I said that some Catholics are concerned that the pope had been “utterly reckless, theologically misleading, and borderline heretical.”
I can’t blame them for quoting it. That’s a good soundbyte. I won’t even say it mischaracterizes what I think, though I do think the fuller context of what I wrote puts a little more review behind that challenge flag.
But the whole piece seems like it should be read over a scratchy phonograph recording of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D-Minor. Something like this, only with lower audio quality:
Because obviously, only cranky-pants, sexually-repressed gay-hating bible-thumpers could dislike this “down-to-earth Argentine” pope.
And boy oh boy, do the comments on the NBC News Facebook post of the article bear that out.
Early on in the thread, commenter Steve Thompson writes, “Always a good sign when conservatives voice concern. Thats how we know we are going forward and making progress. When the backwards thinkers start complaining.” With 155 likes and 20 replies, this comment set the tone for the ensuing discussion.
“For conservatives, not being a hater is ‘revolutionary’ ” writes Connie Ballou.
Beth Kamphaus Knotts gushes, “For the first time, in a very long time, I feel like I belong in my own church.”
Tyler Delcambre confesses that “I just want to say i hate religion but i do like the way this man thinks.”
Judy L. Poole is excited. “I love Pope Francis” she exclaims, “he is very progressive and caring!!!”
Most of the comments — there are hundreds of them at this point — are along the same lines.
And doesn’t that really emphasize my point?
See, I have no problem with people loving the pope. As a Catholic, I think that’s fantastic. But I want them to love him for the right reasons. Bishop Fulton Sheen famously said, “There are not one hundred people in the United States who hate The Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they wrongly perceive the Catholic Church to be.”
I would argue that outside of those conservative Catholics who feel that it is their duty to be papists, there are not one hundred people in the United States who love Pope Francis, but there are millions who love what they perceive Pope Francis to be.
They love him because they think he is moving the Church to join their worldview, not because they are softening their hearts to accept the fullness of truth that is the Church. These are false pretenses. These are not people of good will wanting to join a Catholic Church full of “hard sayings”, but rather people who want a social justice Church that is moderate on abortion, welcoming of same-sex couples, and “practical” about artificial contraception.
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I’ve done Catholic evangelization, and bait-n-switch is not how you gain converts if you want to keep them.
So all this interest in Catholicism, while very cool, is likely to be short lived. It reminds me of the student body elections during my senior year of high school. The two candidates stood side-by-side, one professionally presenting the things she would do if elected and asking confidently for our votes. Her opponent took the podium somewhat nervously, responded with his own pledges, then raised his voice and said, “PLUS, I HAVE CANDY!!” at which point he reached into the pockets of his blazer and pulled out handfuls of sweets, tossing them into the crowd.
Now, as I’ve said, I don’t and can’t know what the pope is thinking, but I can know what his words and actions are telegraphing to the world, and it is no surprise that people are reaching these conclusions. He is giving them this impression and doing very little, if anything at all, to correct it. Vatican spokesman Fr. Lombardi already indicated that the holy father would have done so if he had misgivings about the way he has been presented in his interviews. So the fact that it is becoming increasingly well-known that the wrong sort of people are getting the wrong idea about where the Church is headed and nothing is being done about it is…troubling.
What drives me crazy are the people who just can’t get over trying to change the Catholic Church. SERIOUSLY? STOP IT. It’s the only institution in the world that has stuck to its guns on what it believes as the centuries have thrown every opposition imaginable at it. There have been changes in practice, but not in belief. And I’ll be honest: I don’t care for all of the changes that have been made, or the evade-by-nuance approach to certain teachings that throw cold water on modern approaches to ecumenism and the like, but I won’t tell you that the Church has flat out done a 180 on anything I’m aware of that was non-negotiable.
We are the ones who do not change. That is our hallmark. Our faith is timeless. It does not conform to the zeitgeist. It shapes the world and the cultures it comes into contact with. Let it be. If you want to go start a fancy Internet Church where upsampled Max Headroom simulations perform gay weddings while singing the praises of Margaret Sanger, knock yourself out. But leave my religion alone. Deconstructionism does not apply here.
I don’t want you to hate us, but I’m used to it. We are the eternal party poopers. We are the ones who say actions have consequences, suffering has redemptive value, and just because God is in us does not mean that we are Him. Tough cookies, folks. I can understand why you don’t like our millenia-spanning stubbornness on faith and morals, but come on, you have to respect it. Lost couldn’t even get through six seasons without devolving into insipid and incredibly puzzling unitarian universalist eschatology, and that was a show that started out following rubrics and its own internal canon LIKE A BOSS.
I’m sorry you don’t like what we believe. The Romans didn’t either — mostly for the same reasons — and they fed us to the lions for entertainment because of it. I guarantee if some enterprising network were willing to do a remake of the Roman persecutions as a reality show, they’d get record ratings today, gruesome death and all. The remaining framework of our Judeo-Christian mores is all that is keeping such a thing at bay. The people who reject Church teaching don’t all hate us, but a sizeable number do. And I mean hate with a capital HATE.
But you know what converted the Romans who hated us? Watching innocent men, women, and children walk serenely to their own slaughter, singing songs and praying for their captors. That is a first class mind-blower, and Tertullian nailed it when he said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” We built this city on blood and bones, and we kept coming. Our spirit, the beauty of faith lived, overcame one the most debauched and powerful cultures in the ancient world.
I say “our” because I’m proud of our forefathers in faith, not because I deserve a share in their glory. I can barely fast the two days of the year I’m required to without staying up till midnight ready to shove meat into my face. But if the spirit is weak, it remains. It withstood persecution and genocide, and it’ll withstand pandemic mediocrity and marxist progressivism.
As we consider what it means to find all these people who are seemingly coming to love and respect the Church for all the wrong reasons, I’ll leave you with the words of Pope Benedict XVI, whom I miss more and more all the time:
My idea is that really the springtime of the Church will not say that we will have in a near time buses of conversions, that all peoples of the world will be converted to Catholicism. This is not the way of God. The essential things in history begin always with the small, more convinced communities. So, the Church begins with the 12 Apostles. And even the Church of St. Paul diffused in the Mediterranean are little communities, but this community in itself is the future of the world, because we have the truth and the force of conviction. So, I think also today it should be an error to think now or in 10 years with the new springtime, all people will be Catholic. This is not our future, nor our expectation. But we will have really convinced communities with élan of the faith, no? This is springtime — a new life in very convinced persons with joy of the faith.
Smaller numbers, I think. But from these small numbers we will have a radiation of joy in the world. And so, it’s an attraction, as it was in the old Church. Even when Constantine made Christianity the public religion, there were a small number of percentage at this time; but it was clear, this is the future…
Steve Skojec is a storyteller, writer, blogger, photographer, designer, and sci-fi fan. He is the Founding Publisher and Executive Director of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. He lives in Arizona with his wife Jamie and six of their seven children.