Friday, March 13, 2020

Why I Defend Him: A Reflection on the Seventh Anniversary of Pope Francis

During the pontificate of Pope Francis, I’ve been accused of turning a blind eye, being ignorant of, or otherwise being negligent in my support of the Pope. I thought I would offer this reflection.

It might surprise you, but prior to the 2013 conclave, I was hoping for Cardinal Burke§ to be named Pope. Other favorites included Cardinal Sarah or Cardinal Arinze. Prior to his becoming Pope, I had never heard of Cardinal Bergoglio. The blog post I wrote on the day of his election reflects that. But even back then, I trusted in God to protect His Church. Seven years later, I can confidently say that God has done so.

That doesn’t mean it was always easy to keep trusting in God in those first days. Like other Catholics, I had grown to think that the ways that the Church had always approached things would be the way the Church always would approach them. So, when this Pope did things differently from his predecessors, it was easy to wonder if the accusations from his critics had merit. It didn’t help that long time dissenters were seizing on shallow interpretations of his words to argue that they were “right” all the time. There were times when I wondered if I had misunderstood the promise Christ made about protecting His Church.

What I would eventually discover was: when one reads the actual transcripts of his writings and press conferences, they were very Catholic, mirroring his predecessors. We were now living in the age of the soundbite, where an ignorant or unethical reporter could take a specific quote isolated from all context and use it to promote an agenda, conservative or liberal.

When it became clear that the accusations against the Pope were false, the critics would argue that the Pope was “unclear” and “causing confusion.” Nobody stopped to ask whether their understanding itself was faulty. If there was a problem in the Church, the Pope was to blame.

Eventually, I reached the point of noticing that we were seeing the same critics making the same errors every time, and had to ask, “why are we continuing to give them our attention when they have gotten it wrong every time?” When I heard of accusations against him, I waited for the full document before judging what I heard.

In every controversy, this approach worked. The accusations of “being a socialist,” fell apart when his words were compared to his predecessors (notably Pius XI) on social justice. The accusations of being supportive of “same sex marriage” and “ordaining women,” contradicted his actual words. It was clear that there was neither a defect with his own teachings nor with his predecessors’ teachings.

That’s not to say there were no problems in his pontificate. There are, just like there were with his predecessors and will be with his successors. That’s something that will happen when the Church is filled with human beings and not angels. But it would be wrong to say that the Pope willed, or even directly caused the problems simply because they turned up during his pontificate. That’s the post hoc fallacy.

So, why do I defend him? It’s not because I support error. It’s because I am convinced that he teaches the Catholic Faith and, when he changes a discipline, it is to emphasize a teaching that people have lost sight of and downplayed when it was taught by his predecessors.


(§) Because of this, I find his frequent criticisms of the Pope—which I believe to be unwarranted—to be particularly saddening. In 2013, I certainly didn’t expect him to take the positions he did. I can’t agree with his assessment of the Pope, and could not support him now.

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