Sometimes I wonder if the leaders of The New York Times,among other media titans, take the late Justice Potter Stewart approach to obscentiy when deciding who is a “conservative” Roman Catholic.
The famous jurist, you may recall, said of so-called “hard-core” pornography:
“I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.” [Emphasis added.]
While many of our readers would probably place Pope Benedict XVI in the Catholic Church’s conservative wing, they’d also know he isn’t, say, in the “ultra-traditionalist” camp of, say, the Society of St. Pius X, a group whose relations with the Vatican are tenuous at best. His differences with Pope Francis, so far, are best described as differences of emphasis and style.
Hang in there with me: I do have a journalistic point to make.
The journalists who produced the recent Times piece under the headline, “Conservative U.S. Catholics Feel Left Out of the Pope’s Embrace” pin one label on all sorts of people who are disappointed in one way or another with the work of Pope Francis, without making much distinction as to who fits where under that broad label. They seem to “know it when [they] see it,” but the rest of us are left guessing.
The beginning is poignant enough:
When Pope Francis was elected in March, Bridget Kurt received a small prayer card with his picture at her church and put it up on her refrigerator at home, next to pictures of her friends and her favorite saints.
She is a regular attender of Mass, a longtime stalwart in her church’s anti-abortion movement and a believer that all the church’s doctrines are true and beautiful and should be obeyed. She loved the last two popes, and keeps a scrapbook with memorabilia from her road trip to Denver in 1993 to see Pope John Paul II at World Youth Day.
But Ms. Kurt recently took the Pope Francis prayer card down and threw it away.
“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.”
All right, it’s clear that Kurt doesn’t like something that the pope has said.
However, this article doesn’t specify which statement made her upset — readers can only presume, given the “longtime stalwart in her church’s anti-abortion movement” tag. I’d sure like to know a bit more of her thinking, and why she’s dubbed a “conservative” Catholic. There are and were, after all, politically “liberal” Catholics who also opposed abortion. Dorothy Day comes to mind here, and even Day might have been disappointed in some of the pope’s comments.
Perhaps there was more detail when the story was turned in. We’ll probably never know.