Final thoughts on the Rolling Stone feature on Pope Francis…
The article attempts to show Francis’ break from the supposedly “conservative” Church of old, in the process remaking Pope Francis as the hero of the liberal left. It uses the scandals of Vatican finance and sexual abuse, coupled with old stories about Opus Dei and the Latin Mass, to fashion Pope Benedict XVI as a “conservative” conniver. In short, Francis is portrayed as the populist leader of a movement to “liberalize” the Catholic Church.
Certainly the article contains a great deal of untruth. Inconvenient facts, like Francis’ theological orthodoxy, are ignored. Rolling Stone draws arbitrary conclusions from selected illustrations drawn from the Pope’s life. Why would this pop cultural icon do this?
Easy. Sexual and social relativists wish to refashion Christianity such that they may claim Christ, and his vicar, as their supporters, for their social agenda is more appetizing to people if it complements, rather than competes with, the enduring Christianity history and tradition. In the language of C.S. Lewis, Screwtape has no interest in eradicating Christianity if he can sublimate it to his own purposes. This is a new twist on the traditional view of the Devil’s greatest trick—it isn’t convincing the world he doesn’t exist, but convincing the world that Jesus Christ is the champion of his causes.
Well-formed Catholics in the blogosphere are amply setting down the orthodoxy of Pope Francis. His work on economics, which has sparked media controversy, nevertheless is in keeping with Catholic social teaching since at least Leo XIII. His call for more widespread participation by laity, particularly women, was a matter close to Benedict XVI’s heart. His expressions of charity toward those afflicted with same-sex attraction are deep-seated in the Church’s teaching. For ill-formed Catholics, the media has set the Pope apart from his predecessors by focusing less on substance than misleading sound-bites.
The Rolling Stone piece seems to be successfully refashoning Francis’ public image in the popular culture, which is why it is paramount for the Church (which includes us!) to use the means of social communication to prevent secular media from further hijacking the truth, and to give witness to the truth. Catholic media is important, but a way must also be found to penetrate secular media if in the end the Church is to be successful in this. This highlights Vatican II’s call to holiness for us all—the exhortation to live charitably, joyfully, and boldly in discipleship of Jesus Christ, and commit to the new evangelization.
The promise of the Gospel is that authentic commitment to the truth—and a refusal to separate a commitment to social justice from a commitment to orthodoxy and piety—leads to conversion. What I try to do in these pages, among other things is to use the pop culture’s new-found fascination with the Holy Father for reiterating Vatican II’s call to holiness, which necessitates personal conversion to suffering souls. As the reader may have experienced, one who lives the Gospel, is, (or soon will be) vulnerable to far more than pop-culture persecution. But persecution is a part of the Christian mystery. Fear not. Our Lord has already overcome the pop culture.