The media's Pope Francis problem

It is hard to say why things like the OnePeterFive story happen so frequently. Part of it is that Pope Francis’ character is not very well understood, either by his gushing admirers, within Catholic ranks or otherwise, or his would-be opponents. Francis is often considered a liberal by secular onlookers and traditionalist Catholics alike, a view that does not stand up to scrutiny. In reality he is a practical, no-nonsense, hard-headed shepherd of immortal souls, a man who loathes pretense and idle chatter. Where Benedict XVI was a retiring intellectual most comfortable discussing matters of dogmatic theology with his former students and St. John Paul II a gregarious public-minded man who flourished in the limelight, Francis is a kind of ornery grandfather figure, stern but affectionate and given to outrageous and often hilarious pronouncements — all within the bounds of Catholic orthodoxy.

Misguided opposition has led some of the pope’s closest friends to launch equally wrong-headed counter-attacks. The best case in point is the Italian Jesuit Fr. Antonio Spadaro’s recent essay about a supposed alliance between so-called Catholic “integralists” — people who believe that secular authority has a duty to the church — and American evangelical conservatives, which reads like a decently executed caricature of OnePeterFive and the popular traditionalist Catholic website Rorate Caeli. Both of these outlets claim to be devoted to safeguarding the church’s traditions, not only her sacred liturgy but her teachings about faith and morals as well. Yet they are happy to ignore more than a century’s worth of Catholic social teaching in favor of blindly supporting President Trump and the Republican agenda, even when it is plainly at odds with the magisterium on issues such as the just wage and our duties toward the poor. Meanwhile, many Catholics integralists I know supported Sen. Bernie Sanders for president.