The other week, staunch Catholic Bridget Kurt took the Pope Francis prayer card down from her fridge and threw it in the trash.
“It seems he’s focusing on bringing back the left that’s fallen away, but what about the conservatives?” said Ms. Kurt, a hospice community educator. “Even when it was discouraging working in pro-life, you always felt like Mother Teresa was on your side and the popes were encouraging you. Now I feel kind of thrown under the bus.”
That’s from a piece in Sunday’s New York Times that describes conservative Catholics as feeling “abandoned and deeply unsettled.”
They despair that after 35 years in which the previous popes, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, drew clear boundaries between right and wrong, Francis is muddying Catholic doctrine to appeal to the broadest possible audience.
Wrote Catholic blogger Steve Skojec of recent papal pronouncements (including one that criticized proselytizing as “solemn nonsense”):
Are they explicitly heretical? No. Are they dangerously close? Absolutely. What kind of a Christian tells an atheist he has no intention to convert him? That alone should disturb Catholics everywhere. …
For the life of me, I can’t fathom why anyone faced with the Church of 2013 would choose to convert to Catholicism. For fellowship? I can get fellowship from the local MegaChurch, with far fewer impositions on my personal liberty. For the sacraments? But most Catholics don’t even believe in the Real Presence, most parishes have no adoration or Eucharistic devotions, most priests offer an hour or less per week of confession time on the parish schedule.
Skojec compares Pope Francis (perhaps favorably) to a murderer:
“There have been bad popes in the history of the church… Popes that murdered, popes that had mistresses. I’m not saying Pope Francis is terrible, but there’s no divine protection that keeps him from being the type of guy who with subtlety undermines the teachings of the church.”
I can understand where Skojec is coming from. In eight months, the quiet steamroller that is Pope Francis has done more to drag Catholic theology into the 20th century (not the 21st one yet, perhaps) than his predecessors did in a hundred years. Is that cause for hope or despair? If Francis’ new reign means that harsh, shrill theology gives way to a Church that makes space for humanity, humility, and conciliation, then, as far as I’m concerned, good riddance to the old.
Kurt and Skojec and their fellow conservatives see the pre-Francis Church as an edifice of hold-the-line traditionalism, the only thing that stands between them and a swelling tide of moral relativism and secularization. But two-thirds of Catholics seem to view Francis’s overall focus on human harmony as a positive thing.
Let’s not get carried away. He’s got a ways to go, for instance when it comes to equal treatment for LGBT people.
I wrote earlier that to the extent that Francis causes Catholics to doubt or re-examine their more harmful doctrines, he’s this year’s best and biggest gift to atheists. But I suppose the reverse could also be true. I don’t think he’ll be persuading any outright atheists to become believers — but this Pope, despite his dismissive take on conversion attempts, could well push disillusioned fence-sitters into Catholicism’s fold. This article suggests that the process is already underway.
Maybe the Pope is all about PR and marketing and market share? My much-ignored inner peace-maker hopes my inner skeptic is wrong.