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Toward the end of last week, a Jewish friend asked me what I thought of Pope Francis’s performance on his North American tour. I hesitated to answer. What I wanted to say was that he’s driving me crazy. “I’m conflicted,” was the best I could come up with.
I’m the type who thinks you don’t talk smack about the pope. Call it the Catholic version of Ronald Reagan’s eleventh commandment.
Yet I struggle, like so many of my conservative Catholic friends, to hold my tongue when the Holy Father pronounces on such non-dogmatic issues as capitalism and climate change, or when he scolds the American bishops for being “harsh” and “divisive.” So much of what he says—and how he says it— seems deliberately aimed at Catholics who actually stuck with the church all these years, defending her honor against those who would run her out of the public square. We feel like we’re being singled out for criticism.
My liberal Catholic friends respond with no small amount of relish by saying, “Aha! Now you know how it felt all those years to live with a pope you disagreed with and felt didn’t represent your views. Turnabout is fair play.” Maybe they’re right, but they should be as ashamed of indulging that impulse as anyone who lorded the traditionalism of John Paul II or Benedict XVI over them should have been. Catholics — conservative or liberal — who use the pope as a cudgel with which to beat the other side should reexamine their motives.
For me — and, I suspect, a great many conservatives — the gripe with Pope Francis is as basic as this: Friends and family shouldn’t air their differences in public. If the pope had a problem with us, he should have said it to our faces. We could have worked something out.
But Francis didn’t say it to our faces. Right from the jump, he took it out in the open. He said it to a giddy, greedy press, right there on the back of his plane. He told the world that traditional Catholic families had a bad habit of breeding like rabbits. He told the same people who’ve been telling us to shut up about social issues like abortion and gay marriage that we talk too much about that stuff.
Francis said, in not so many words, that conservative Catholics are too “judgey,” which, whether he realizes it or not, is one of the worst things you can be in America these days. In short, it feels like the pope sold us out. He went and broke bread with the adversary without checking in with us first.
As if all that wasn’t painful enough, he then came cross the water and said the same things to our Congress. I know immigration is an issue dear to the Church’s heart. But it also happens to be a major and divisive issue in this country, and the pope came down firmly on the side of the Democratic left. Climate change, too, is a major and divisive issue in this country; again, he came down firmly on the side of the Democratic left.
On all the major and divisive issues that he spoke about, he came down firmly on the side of the Democratic left.
Now the pope has gone home. What are we left with? Will the excitement his visit generated get lapsed Catholics back in the pews? Has the nation been evangelized? Have the millions of faithless Americans had their hearts turned toward Christ?
I suppose time will tell. But my own guess is that the answer to these questions is no, not by a long shot.
Instead, we are left with the gruesome and heart-wrenching Planned Parenthood videos, a major and divisive issue about which the pope stayed basically silent. We are left with the Obergefell decision, a major and divisive issue about which the pope spoke in only the most obscure terms. We are left with Obamacare’s contraception mandate, about which he chose to speak symbolically through his visit to the Little Sisters of the Poor — no small gesture, but not quite as forceful as standing before Congress and telling the president to leave the nuns alone.
The pope has gone, and traditional and conservative Catholics are left … on our own. So I guess I just have to come out and say it. I love Pope Francis, but he’s driving me crazy.