Pope Francis: One year later

posted at 2:41 pm on March 13, 2014 by Ed Morrissey

A year ago, at about this exact moment, I started doing a pre-taped interview with my friend Paul Ridgeway for Salem Radio’s KKMS Twin Cities affiliate, live from the press room at the Vatican. I had arrived there five days earlier to cover the papal conclave and inadvertently walked into a scoop the first day on the job. If that made me feel more able to work in the field as a journalist/activist, what happened in this interview provided a moment of sheer humility. As I explained to Paul that we wouldn’t see any action on this day a year ago because the conclave is so wide open, blah blah blah, the inevitable occurred while we spoke:

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In a sense, this mirrors the experience I have had with Francis as Pontiff — exciting, humbling, challenging, and more. Over the past year, Francis has offered the world something new in approach, as a loving pastor looking to bring sheep back into the fold, while saying very little that’s different from either of his previous two predecessors.

In the course of the year and of Francis’ pontificate, the media reaction to this has been … instructive. We have been constantly reminded of the danger of sound-bite approaches to the teachings of faith. I once joked that the five most frightening words for Catholics have been, “Pope Francis gave an interview,” because it meant that we would have to explain all over again that what Francis says fits within Catholic teachings on faith. The media, always anxious for a narrative to sell, pits Francis against Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI when the only difference is tonal rather than doctrinal.  National Catholic Reporter’s Pat Archbold ran a great piece in August skewering this impulse titled, “10 Quotes That Prove The Pope Is A Liberal.” The punch line is that all ten quotes came from Benedict rather than Francis.

However, it’s not just the media that needed shaking up. Catholics, perhaps especially conservative Catholics, needed to break out of the complacency provided by Blessed John Paul and Benedict too. Certainly for me, the need to provide better analysis for the media coverage forced me to pay more attention to the broader range of Church teaching, and not just stick with my comfort zone of issues. While this has certainly encouraged some on the other side of the political divide, it also provides them a chance to embrace the rest of doctrine more fully, too. (Whether and how much any of us actually do, of course, is the struggle of faith in general.)

Plus, even with the misinformation and confusion that occurs when the media tries pushing sound bites rather than broader context, the truth is that the Catholic Church has mattered much more in the past year than perhaps since the end of the Cold War. Francis has raised the relevancy of the Church to new heights and made Catholics a key part of the conversation on a broad range of issues, especially poverty and family issues. Politicians who want to claim Francis as their own on their own agendas have to answer for the Pope’s declarations on other issues as well, as some of them have begun to realize to their discomfort.

For me, this has been a year of blessings as well as struggle. Pope Francis challenges us to reconnect to our faith and to defend it, while acknowledging that we need to shake off our complacency and roll up our sleeves. The struggle to find my place in this call has been an experience I wouldn’t trade — as was my assignment to cover the conclave in the first place.

While in Rome, I interviewed George Weigel, author of Evangelical Catholicism, and he has similar thoughts on today’s anniversary:

The pope knows that, amid the polymorphous perversities of postmodernity and the pain they cause, the Church attracts primarily by witness, not by argument. To those who imagine themselves beyond the reach of compassion, the Church offers the experience of the divine mercy. No one, the pope insists, is beyond the reach of God’s power to forgive. That experience of mercy, in turn, opens up its recipient to the truths the Church proposes: the truths the Church believes make for the human happiness that is being eroded by the idolatries of the age, especially the idolatry of the imperial autonomous Self. Mercy and truth are not antinomies, in the Catholic scheme of things. Mercy and truth are two entwined dimensions of God’s reach into history, and into individual lives.

Time read the Pope’s self-query, “Who am I to judge?” as the opening wedge to that long-awaited concession by the Catholic Church that it had been wrong, all along, about the sexual revolution. That is not what the pope thinks, having gone out of his way in Corriere della Sera to praise the “genius” and “courage” of Pope Paul VI for “applying a cultural brake” in the encyclical Humanae Vitae, for standing fast against the tidal wave of Sixties permissivism that has led to so much unhappiness and sorrow, and for opposing “present and future neo-Malthusianism.” When Francis asked, “Who am I to judge?” he was responding as a pastor to the particular situation of a man experiencing same-sex attraction. And as the pope said, if that man was trying, with the grace of God, to live an honest and chaste life, he ought not be judged by his temptations, any more than anyone else in this world of endless temptation. Mercy and truth, as always, go together. For the mercy that tells us that we are not beyond the pale of forgiveness is the mercy that leads us into the truths that make for genuine human happiness.

Jorge Mario Bergoglio is a very old-school Jesuit, and it’s clear that, as such, he is going to be pope his way, not anyone else’s — which is a matter not of ego but of the kind of classic Ignatian religious formation (stressing a stringent, ongoing, personal discernment of God’s will) that once prepared 17th-century European intellectuals to paddle canoes up Lake Huron, thousands of miles from civilization, in search of converts among the native tribes. As he has said on numerous occasions, he is a son of the Church, who believes and teaches what the Church believes and teaches. He is going to give voice to those convictions, sometimes, in ways that surprise, even shock. But he has gotten everyone’s attention, now, and as he grows in his understanding of how to use the papal megaphone that is his, it seems likely that he will deploy that singular voice to foster what he and his brother bishops called for at Aparecida in 2007: “a personal and communal encounter with Jesus Christ that raises up disciples and missionaries.”

E. J. Dionne declares this a near-perfect first year for Francis:

He disdained the trappings of piety and might, including the ornate regalia that appeal to so many prelates. The Roman joke was that as priests got with his program, one could find many lacy surplices on sale at steep discounts on eBay. On his first Holy Thursday, Francis washed the feet not of the usual group of priests but rather of a dozen young people being held at a juvenile detention center, including two women and two Muslims.He has not altered church doctrine, but his shift in emphasis has been breathtaking. “We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods,” he has said. “This is not possible.” He thus declared that the church’s main mission would no longer be as a lead combatant in the culture wars. It would stand primarily with and for the neediest. …

He has shown that the spiritual life is also a life of social commitment. He demands a lot while preaching about a God of mercy, confounding scolds and religious therapists alike. By engaging joyfully with nonbelievers and those who believe differently, he speaks to those skeptical that Christianity has anything left to say.

He called for a church that is “bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets” and has proved that such a church is hard to ignore.

I can’t speak directly for George and E.J., but I’d guess that all three of us are looking forward to Year 2 with a lot of anticipation, and profound gratitude and delight.

Update: John Boehner has invited Pope Francis to speak to a joint session of Congress. Now that will be interesting to see.


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Who cares?!

Akzed on March 13, 2014 at 2:43 PM

E. J. Dionne declares this a near-perfect first year for Francis

That oughta be enough to let you know all you need to know.

mankai on March 13, 2014 at 2:44 PM

EJ Dionne:

Republicans: Evil
Conservatives: Eviler
Evangelicals: Super Eviler

The Pope: Awesomeness

/’nuff said

mankai on March 13, 2014 at 2:49 PM

The “I’ll say anything to get attention” Pope for the age of Miley Cyrus.

kcewa on March 13, 2014 at 2:50 PM

John Boehner has invited Pope Francis to speak to a joint session of Congress. Now that will be interesting to see.

Will Democrats boo Francis like they boo God?

Happy Nomad on March 13, 2014 at 2:50 PM

E. J. Dionne declares this a near-perfect first year for Francis

That oughta be enough to let you know all you need to know.

mankai on March 13, 2014 at 2:44 PM

If you get props from E.J. Dionne, you’re doing it wrong.

gryphon202 on March 13, 2014 at 2:50 PM

EJ makes me chuckle… disdaining Piety?

pi·e·ty [pahy-i-tee]
noun, plural pi·e·ties.

1. reverence for God or devout fulfillment of religious obligations: a prayer full of piety.

After the dissonance inducing first sentence, you just can’t take him seriously…

“You keep using that word…”
http://youtu.be/G2y8Sx4B2Sk

SkinnerVic on March 13, 2014 at 2:53 PM

Will Democrats boo Francis like they boo God?

Happy Nomad on March 13, 2014 at 2:50 PM

Problem is that they won’t.

“Now, his Holiness is obviously a very revered figure,” said Pelosi. “I was there for his inauguration. And I being Catholic believed that he was chosen Pope by the intercession of the Holy Spirit, so I pay attention to what he says. And I can tell you that there is great joy among Catholics and friends of Catholics as to respect that his Holiness pays to all of God’s creation and members of the church and then beyond that. It’s really quite remarkable. It’s a source of joy to us all.”

mankai on March 13, 2014 at 2:56 PM

As a protestant, here’s my take on Francis one year later:

Jesus said that leaders in the church should be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.

Francis has got the innocent as doves part down, but he’s got a lot of work to do on the other half of the equation.

2YEP598 on March 13, 2014 at 2:59 PM

He’s a wonderful pope!

dpduq on March 13, 2014 at 3:04 PM

As I told one of my parish priests @ my face-to-face confession on Monday, I really don’t like Pope Francis.
I consider him to be a leftist.

annoyinglittletwerp on March 13, 2014 at 3:05 PM

Over the past year, Francis has offered the world something new in approach, as a loving pastor looking to bring sheep back into the fold, while saying very little that’s different from either of his previous two predecessors.

Wha…….are you out of your mind, Ed Morrissey?
Ed PLEASE come back to reality, we IMPLORE you

Offhanded on March 13, 2014 at 3:06 PM

Caption for the pic: “It’s raining, right? Tell me it’s raining.”

PersonFromPorlock on March 13, 2014 at 3:07 PM

Who cares? There is one head of the church: Christ.

tyketto on March 13, 2014 at 3:08 PM

As I told one of my parish priests @ my face-to-face confession on Monday, I really don’t like Pope Francis.
I consider him to be a leftist.

annoyinglittletwerp on March 13, 2014 at 3:05 PM

You should try Buddhism for a while. It’s all about continual change ;)

DarkCurrent on March 13, 2014 at 3:08 PM

Who cares? There is one head of the church: Christ.

tyketto on March 13, 2014 at 3:08 PM

Well put

Offhanded on March 13, 2014 at 3:11 PM

DarkCurrent on March 13, 2014 at 3:08 PM

I was expecting that-but shush anyway. LoL

annoyinglittletwerp on March 13, 2014 at 3:12 PM

I stand by Francis but I wish he’d be more circumspect.

Mason on March 13, 2014 at 3:14 PM

Over the past year, Francis has offered the world something new in approach, as a loving pastor looking to bring sheep back into the fold, while saying very little that’s different from either of his previous two predecessors.

Wha…….are you out of your mind, Ed Morrissey?
Ed PLEASE come back to reality, we IMPLORE you

Offhanded on March 13, 2014 at 3:06 PM

Told my priest that I’m not a blind follower.
His attitude was that as long as the Pope isn’t speaking ‘Ex Cathedra’-I’m good.

annoyinglittletwerp on March 13, 2014 at 3:15 PM

Catholics, needed to break out of the complacency provided by Blessed John Paul and Benedict too

You lost me on that one Ed. Complacency? Perhaps, but from those marvelous shepherds we received perfect clarity of thought, rather than the confusion that too often required conservative Catholics to explain what Francis probably meant. (I say conservative Catholics because by definition there are no other kind.)

Don L on March 13, 2014 at 3:26 PM

Don L on March 13, 2014 at 3:26 PM
Francis is a leftist-therefore he speaks in leftist language.
I so miss Benedict.

annoyinglittletwerp on March 13, 2014 at 3:28 PM

You should try Buddhism for a while. It’s all about continual change ;)

DarkCurrent on March 13, 2014 at 3:08 PM

Watch out; you might change into one of us, my objective and highly intelligent friend.

Schadenfreude on March 13, 2014 at 3:34 PM

I wish the best for Pope Francis. I want him to succeed, and I have faith that as the successor to St. Peter, he will never deviate from the core tenets of the faith.

That being said, I am in virtual total disagreement with Ed otherwise. I believe Pope Francis, in his first year, has been extremely disappointing. Almost to the point that I would rate him a horrible Pope. From his ignorant pronouncements regarding the economic systems of our world to his showboating of his “common man” credentials, I believe he is doing more harm than good for the Catholic faithful.

And, no, I do not accept the argument that everything negative we have seen regarding Pope Francis is a result of “mistranslation” and “media bias.” There’s too large a body of evidence that has formed, both before and during his papacy, that sheds light on his leftwing, Communist beliefs to ignore and to brush off as simply flaws in a translation.

I do not wish ill on anyone, and I certainly would never wish for the death of Pope Francis or any other Pope. But the precedent for retirement having been established by Pope Benedict XVI, I would be encouraged if Pope Francis should decide to follow suit and step down in short order.

Shump on March 13, 2014 at 3:45 PM

You should try Buddhism for a while. It’s all about continual change ;)

DarkCurrent on March 13, 2014 at 3:08 PM

I thought the central message of Buddhism was “every man for himself”?

/who knows the reference?

mankai on March 13, 2014 at 3:46 PM

Francis is a leftist-therefore he speaks in leftist language.
I so miss Benedict.

annoyinglittletwerp on March 13, 2014 at 3:28 PM

How is anything that Benedict said on economics different from what Francis said on economics? This is actually the one area where you can read Francis through Benedict. Catholic social teachings on economics are very liberal, to the left of most American Democrats, and have been since the late 19th century. The only difference between Francis and Benedict is that I guess Benedict’s fanboys didn’t really think that he meant it when he published Caritas in Veritate. (To be honest, Benedict’s optics were off when it came to speaking about social justice. The black shoes and the used Ford Focus give Francis quite a bit of street cred when it comes to poverty.)

I do think that Francis is a moderate, but there is a difference between Church liberals and conservatives and political liberals and conservatives.

Illinidiva on March 13, 2014 at 3:46 PM

I still think we are all jumping to way too many conclusions way too soon.

As a Jesuit by training I think (?) his social economics policy will be dangerous because it seems to force an acceptance of centrally planned economies that the Church emphatically says it does not endorse. As a Latin American, he has a cultural bias to a social justice which was too easily hi-jacked by the marxists in central America. I want him to expound more on this.

If he is saying chasing money for the sake of chasing money is dangerous – then he is right and Jesus said exactly that. If he is saying we are responsible for our brothers, and helping others – then he is right and Jesus said exactly that. If he is saying that give unto Caeser what is his and then foment for socialist welfare state policies – Jesus didn’t say that. The Church sometimes fails to make that plain.

As to social issues – anyone who thinks the Pope will endorse SSM, abortion, women priests, extramarital sexual relations, etc; are either overly concerned or anticipating something to come to validate your own worldview. Ed and we can accept love the sinner but hate the sin. But EJ and the left can’t. EJ – the Pope prays for you and hopes the best for you. But your cultural leftism he does not agree with, and he fears that if you continue to stray from the Church’s teaching what comes next may not be so good for you. Pelosi is a lost cause. Why she hasn’t been excommunicated is amazing.

Zomcon JEM on March 13, 2014 at 3:58 PM

mankai on March 13, 2014 at 3:46 PM

What is A fish Called Wanda?

RDH on March 13, 2014 at 3:59 PM

What is A fish Called Wanda?

RDH on March 13, 2014 at 3:59 PM

ding! ding! ding!

Aristotle was not Belgian. The central message of Buddhism is not “Every man for himself.” And the London Underground is not a political movement.

Although, under Common Core, all these are acceptable answers.

mankai on March 13, 2014 at 4:03 PM

Pope Francis comes off as if he’s try to be the “cool dad”.

DethMetalCookieMonst on March 13, 2014 at 4:09 PM

National Catholic Reporter’s Pat Archbold ran a great piece in August skewering this impulse titled, “10 Quotes That Prove The Pope Is A Liberal.” The punch line is that all ten quotes came from Benedict rather than Francis.

Except that those are quotes that conservatives would say as well. Congrats on falling for the liberal lie that only a lib would feel that…

“It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the church’s pastors wherever it occurs.”

…and that conservatves make homosexuals the object f violent malice.

DethMetalCookieMonst on March 13, 2014 at 4:13 PM

Francis is not a ‘leftist’ or some Liberation Theologist. If he were, he wouldn’t have found himself criticized so strongly for his action or lack thereof toward Liberation Theologist Jesuits during the junta. He is admittedly no fan of unfettered capitalism either, but neither were Blessed John Paul II or beloved Benedict XVI. Blessed JPII took some heat from hard core capitalists over his statement on “the evils of socialism and the evils of the excesses of capitalism.” Catholics should agree with that.

And he has been highly outspoken against the evil of abortion and ‘same sex marriage’ in his preaching and writing as Cardinal and has continued to uphold the Church’s teaching on that regardless of the distortions in both the leftist and knee-jerk right media.

If you want proof, just ask former Father Greg Reynolds of Australia.

pannw on March 13, 2014 at 4:23 PM

mankai on March 13, 2014 at 4:03 PM

Otto: Don’t call me stupid.
Wendy: Why on earth not?

Loved that movie…

RDH on March 13, 2014 at 4:28 PM

If the Pope speaks at a joint session of Congress, will there be protesters in the crowd chantingHail Satan“.

Nethicus on March 13, 2014 at 4:40 PM

That being said, I am in virtual total disagreement with Ed otherwise. I believe Pope Francis, in his first year, has been extremely disappointing. Almost to the point that I would rate him a horrible Pope. From his ignorant pronouncements regarding the economic systems of our world to his showboating of his “common man” credentials, I believe he is doing more harm than good for the Catholic faithful.

You don’t like the common guy appeal? I think that it comes off like a Frank Capra movie being played out in real time. And apparently American Catholics are very ignorant about traditional Catholic economic thought. It has never been very complementary of capitalism or free markets.

Illinidiva on March 13, 2014 at 4:53 PM

I started out liking him but now not so much. He leans too far left to me.

neyney on March 13, 2014 at 5:02 PM

I wish the best for Pope Francis. I want him to succeed, and I have faith that as the successor to St. Peter, he will never deviate from the core tenets of the faith.

That being said, I am in virtual total disagreement with Ed otherwise. I believe Pope Francis, in his first year, has been extremely disappointing. Almost to the point that I would rate him a horrible Pope. From his ignorant pronouncements regarding the economic systems of our world to his showboating of his “common man” credentials, I believe he is doing more harm than good for the Catholic faithful.

And, no, I do not accept the argument that everything negative we have seen regarding Pope Francis is a result of “mistranslation” and “media bias.” There’s too large a body of evidence that has formed, both before and during his papacy, that sheds light on his leftwing, Communist beliefs to ignore and to brush off as simply flaws in a translation.

I do not wish ill on anyone, and I certainly would never wish for the death of Pope Francis or any other Pope. But the precedent for retirement having been established by Pope Benedict XVI, I would be encouraged if Pope Francis should decide to follow suit and step down in short order.

Shump on March 13, 2014 at 3:45 PM

Now this is the way you present a measured & reasoned argument, well done sir!

Offhanded on March 13, 2014 at 5:10 PM

The Roman Catholic Church’s lurch to the left actually preceded Pope Francis. The Pope is merely joining the crowd. I say this with sadness not malice. I come from Anglican backgrounds but was infuriated by the wild left swing of this religion which preceded the Roman Catholic port side tilt by a number of years. First several Anglican (or Episcopal)churches did away with the cross as a symbol of Christianity. Then the Church leaped to the forefront in promoting any progressive cause that came along. Finally the head bishop of the US Church was openly gay and proud of it and even lived with his lover!

Because of this the Catholic church seemed a better choice and I even toyed with idea of converting. Then came scandal after scandal- the leading one, of course, being the fact that thousands of priests were sexually abusing young boys and, worse, the Church was not only complicit in covering up for them, but attempted to damage the reputations of the accusers by calling them ‘liars.” Politically, in the last two elections, the Church which values the sanctity of the lives of our most innocent the most (little babies) led all denominations of Christianity in voting for the man with a record of being the most abortion-oriented leader (Obama) we’ve ever had—TWICE. So, one one hand, lay Catholics aided and abetted the slaughter of babies by the millions and the clergy preyed upon the survivors like foxes in a hen house. You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out that something’s wrong in River City.

Of course the Catholic Church is not alone in declining attendance, hypocricy and disillusionment and that too is sad because even a diminished Catholic Church (and others) is still vastly superior to Godless socialism.

MaiDee on March 13, 2014 at 5:25 PM

He’s way left.

Big Orange on March 13, 2014 at 5:28 PM

My break with the Church began with the war in Iraq. In which I participated. I was raised both Catholic and military, and enlisted on my own as an adult. The military and Catholicism are the two institutions that shaped my belief system more than any other. When the leader of one spoke against the mission of the other, that left me–and many other believing Catholics in the military–with the uncomfortable question of what exactly our participation in that war meant for our eternal souls. And if, in our judgment, that war was justified, then what does that mean about the Pope’s infallibility?

And if the Pope is God’s representative on earth and his pronouncements are supposed to be followed by all the faithful, then my perception that the Vatican is not so much spiritually moved as guided by leftist European politics becomes a constant corrosion to my already-shaky faith.

I haven’t “left” the Church in the sense that I don’t believe in Catholic dogma and teachings. But the Church has definitely left me. Pope Francis is just the continuation of an existing leftist trajectory founded in his country’s majority philosophical beliefs, not anything inspired by God.

Zoomie on March 13, 2014 at 6:04 PM

John Boehner has invited Pope Francis to speak to a joint session of Congress. Now that will be interesting to see.

“Conservative” Republican Boehner invites socialist to speak to Congress, lol.

xblade on March 13, 2014 at 7:27 PM

Economically, Pope Francis is dangerously illiterate. To treat forced redistribution by socialistic politicians as the equivalent of Christian charity is an absurdity. The pope praises politicians who take money by force from one group and give it to another, and call it charity. The truth, of course, is that such politicians are more like Judas Iscariot than anything else — the thief who loved “holding the bag” so he could steal from it.

It really seems a conservative would find a little more to criticize in such a version of economics.

Some in Catholicism seem to love them some liberation theology, but it’s really just a pseudo-Christian veneer over atheistic Marxism. I would hope after the complete failures of Communism over the last 100 years that more people would have the wit to reject such thinking, but the new pope seems to be adopting it wholesale.

I’ll admit, though, that it has been fun to see the liberals lurch from one pet issue to another, seeming to believe with each new papal statement that the pope would somehow cease being Catholic.

But then, they’re always getting crazy ideas.

There Goes the Neighborhood on March 14, 2014 at 1:32 AM

Clown

Murphy9 on March 14, 2014 at 6:10 AM