Surprise, America: The Pope is still Catholic
Kyle Palmer | Thursday, October 15, 2015
I remember receiving a number of news notifications on my phone back in the summer of 2013, and the consensus among media seemed to suggest that Pope Francis had uprooted the Catholic Church altogether. Now, in reality, he said in response to a question about homosexuality, “Who am I to judge?” Contrary to what pundits claimed, the Pope had not actually changed any stance of the Church. It has been long held in the Church that no one on earth can know who is going to Hell, and the ultimate judgment remains with God, whose mercy is simply incomprehensible to the earth’s residents. No Church doctrine was changed. No revolution was started. No Catholic internal war broke out.
What I dislike most about media as of late, whether it be Fox News, The New York Times, MSNBC or Buzzfeed, isn’t the inherent political biases they all carry, nor is it a matter of writing or reporting styles. It is how the media has mischaracterized Pope Francis since he ascended to the Papacy.
It’s as if the media believes that then-Cardinal Bergoglio came in as a rogue and fought for the Papacy so that he could upend the Church entirely. The Cardinal Electorate would not have elected a leader who was hell-bent on destroying the church they dedicated their lives to serve. However, since his election, American media seems to want to incite a Catholic civil war. They seem to believe that just because Pope Francis said the pursuit of money without civic virtue was a bad thing, he must be a communist. They seem to believe that just because Pope Francis is advocating for care of the earth, he must be introducing left-wing ideals into the Catholic Church. Because of this mischaracterization by the media, liberals praise Pope Francis because they seem to think that he’s changing the Church’s doctrine to be more liberal, and conservatives oppose Pope Francis for the same reason. In reality, Pope Francis has not brought forth a single change in Catholic doctrine.
In fact, these are things the Church has always believed — Pope Francis is just more charismatic in emphasizing them. The Church has never endorsed any economic theory, but has condemned unfettered greed as an evil among mankind. The Church has never said we should destroy the earth’s resources, but that we should use the earth’s resources wisely. Conservative friends of mine have frequently said that Pope John Paul II was “better than Francis” because he never talked about these things and is often seen as a conservative contemporary of Reagan and Thatcher, but this thinking ignores history. Pope John Paul II said in 1990 for his World Day of Peace message regarding the environment, “Industrial waste, the burning of fossil fuels, unrestricted deforestation … all of these are known to harm the atmosphere and environment. The resulting meteorological and atmospheric changes range from damage to health to the possible future submersion of low-lying lands. While in some cases the damage already done may well be irreversible, in many other cases it can still be halted. It is necessary, however, that the entire human community — individuals, states and international bodies — take seriously the responsibility that is theirs. … I wish to repeat that the ecological crisis is a moral issue.”
Pope Francis has never fallen out of grace with Church teaching. It’s astonishing to me that the media selectively covered Pope Francis’s comments on economic inequality and climate change, but didn’t cover his comments to the United States Council of Catholic Bishops: “I appreciate the unfailing commitment of the Church in America to the cause of life and that of the family, which is the primary reason for my present visit.” Surprise, media, the Pope is still Catholic.
I’m Catholic, and a moderate Republican, but I don’t seek to claim Pope Francis as my own. I understand the mission of the Pope and the Church transcends the American political confines of Republican vs. Democrat. I also understand those with whom I agree and disagree politically aren’t going to have a perfect understanding of the Church or the Pope; I definitely acknowledge I don’t have a perfect understanding. However, I admonish those who wish to bring the leader of the Church into a political debate to do their research first, before alleging that he is a lesser Pope than prior ones or asserting that he is conservative or liberal.
Recently, Republicans and Democrats have fought over who gets to “claim” the Church and Catholic voters as their own. This reflects an extremely undeveloped understanding of the Church. The Catholic Church will never adhere strictly to the ideals of a single party and it will always have points of conflict with every political party, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. What good is the Church if it doesn’t challenge everyone to do better? If no political group is ever quite satisfied with the doctrine of a specific religion, then that religion is doing its job right.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.