I’m a little late on this, but everyone is still talking about Pope Francis’ recent interview. Allow me to start by saying that I think Pope Francis’ comments, and the ensuing media narrative that Pope Francis is charting a new liberal course for the Church while Pope Benedict was a conservative focused on rules, is at best overhyped, and at worst outright deceitful. While there is much to say about the content of Francis’ interview, he doesn’t differ from Benedict on fundamentals.
Carl Anderson, CEO of the Knights of Columbus, shares a similar view. According to Anderson, the media narrative is that Pope Francis is charting a new course for the Church by focusing on mercy and salvation, rather than on rules. But Pope Benedict said much the same thing. From the article:
Though it garnered little media attention, Pope Benedict XVI made a similar statement in 2006. Asked why he hadn’t spoken about same-sex marriage, abortion, or contraception in a speech, he [Benedict] noted that “Catholicism isn’t a collection of prohibitions; it’s a positive option.”
With neither pope has the full story been told. Furthermore, as Francis went to great lengths to point out in his encyclical Lumen Fidei, continuity is a hallmark of the papacy.
“The first setting in which faith enlightens the human city is the family. I think first and foremost of the stable union of man and woman in marriage. This union is born of their love, as a sign and presence of God’s own love, and of the acknowledgment and acceptance of the goodness of sexual differentiation.”
But the media’s narrative of Francis is something else. We are told he is a progressive, taking the Catholic Church in a profoundly new direction — uninterested in Church teaching on moral issues. Benedict, we are told, is conservative, doctrinaire, and old-fashioned — focused on moral issues. Neither narrative is true, because each leaves out half of the story.
In another piece, the Catholic News Agency highlights more similar statements from Benedict about this topic.
“We should not allow our faith to be drained by too many discussions of multiple, minor details,” he said, “but rather, should always keep our eyes in the first place on the greatness of Christianity.”
“If we let ourselves be drawn into these discussions, the Church is then identified with certain commandments or prohibitions,” Benedict said.
“We give the impression that we are moralists with a few somewhat antiquated convictions, and not even a hint of the true greatness of the faith appears. I therefore consider it essential always to highlight the greatness of our faith,” adding that we must never be diverted from that highlight.
Again, these are statements made by Benedict during his papacy. But somehow, Francis, saying much the same thing, has garnered media headlines that he is a liberal Pope charting a new course for the Church. Instead of digging in and writing a real story, the media are quick to apply labels more appropriate for American politics, and in doing so, they characterize both men falsely. This narrative of the repressive, rule-oriented Benedict and progressive, mercy-oriented Francis is wildly overdone. It is lazy, and at times a deliberate lie. There are certainly differences between Benedict and Francis, and the media has every right to highlight those and write about them. But they also have a duty to write the truth. And the truth is that there is a beautiful continuity between these two men. What an amazing testament to the power of the Holy Spirit.