Holy Fathers – Are Comparisons Fair?

Since shortly after the moment his name was announced, Catholics who are active in the blogosphere and social media have been making comparisons between Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Pope Francis. Perhaps we can’t help ourselves, and perhaps such conversation is better than being completely unabsorbed in the working of the Church… my jury is still out on that.

But even the Church herself seems ready to begin to draw parallels and point to divergences. Case in point, this beautiful video from Catholic News Service:

Benedictine Abbot Michael Zielinski

In the video, we hear Benedictine Abbot Michael Zielinski, an official at the Vatican’s worship congregation, offering a look at both pontiffs. I would not exactly call his words a “comparison”, but someone less nuanced that Abbot Zielinski might possible venture into that conversation.

As a Catholic blogger, I have to say that I am much more in tune to Pope Francis’ day to day activities — and his preaching — than I was with Pope Benedict. But I am quick to remind myself that this is because I intentionally “tuned in” to several new news sources during the conclave. The instant alerts I set for myself when certain media entities updated  their video or news feeds have remained intact. As a result, I receive several reminders each day of Pope Francis’ activities, recaps of his homilies, and plenty of footage of him kissing babies. All things that Pope Benedict did too, but alas I was less “on top of” his profound sanctity.

All this is a backdrop for my big question: is it really right — or fair — for us to be comparing Holy Fathers given that Pope Benedict is still alive and ministering, albeit in a new fashion? Does the media coverage of Pope Francis’ activities lend to this? Is there harm — or rather great benefit — in being in touch with our Pontiff’s day to day ministry?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this matter!

About Lisa M. Hendey

Lisa M. Hendey is the founder and editor of CatholicMom.com and the bestselling author of The Handbook for Catholic Moms and A Book of Saints for Catholic Moms.

  • mary370

    I think there is great harm. I was very tuned into Pope Benedict. When I read the comparisons I learn that “he didn’t smile”, “he didn’t hug people”, “he didn’t respond”, etc. I can match picture for picture, word for word, video for video the same behaviors , albeit expressed differently, between the two. Yes, Benedict hugged and kissed people. Yes, he got humanly emotional – I have the video. John Thavis writes in his Vatican Diaries that Benedict didn’t get emotional in Munich even. Why then are there tears in his eyes and a wavering voice on my video of the event. I don’t get why Benedict is put down and comparisons are saying “look, Pope Francis is doing something different”. Really? He is just doing it his way but it is the same. The comparisons make me turn off from Pope Francis which I am fighting.

    Now, as soon as I write this people will put me in a category. I am one of those Conservative Catholics. Since I am a practicing social worker who goes to Folk Masses, I become incensed that I am categorized at all. The culture wars need to stop. Why did I follow Pope Benedict – he brought God back into the picture. When historians look back at his words and deeds – there will be no Francis vs. Benedict. Meanwhile because people believed the bias against Benedict and view him with that bias in mind they have missed a great pontificate.

    • lisahendey

      Mary I am so glad you commented. I think what you’re saying has real resonance. I also think this situation is so different for all of us because we did not have a true time of really saying “goodbye” to Pope Benedict — and we all need to remember that he is still very actively ministering to each of us with his prayers. Thank you so much for commenting.

  • laurapearl

    My husband and I have talked about this, about how the media coverage of the new pope, which seems at times to paint him as “better” in some ways to previous popes, can be very, very dangerous. It seems almost as if the liberal media is trying to paint the others as inferior in comparison, and as having less humility, holiness, and love for the poor. Popes are people, too, and like the rest of us, they can have different personalities without one taking away from the other.

    Laura Pearl @ http://mumsie2five.blogspot.com

    • lisahendey

      “Popes are people”… great reminder. Thanks for responding Laura!

  • http://www.snoringscholar.com/ Sarah Reinhard

    I think you can’t help it. I sure can’t. Just like you can’t really help looking at your kids and seeing how one is good at jumping jacks and the other is good at reading books and the other is good at climbing on ceilings. :)

  • Colleen

    Each pope has his own gifts and calling from the Lord. “We are all one body” but have many parts. Some of us will have a stronger devotion to one than to another, I suppose. I love both Pope Benedict & Pope Francis, for different reasons. There shouldn’t be a “competition.” They are both Il Papa to me. They are both leading us to a closer relationship with Jesus. They go about it in a different way. Thank goodness. How else are we – the Church and the sheep – to learn and grow?

  • Kalina

    Everybody can compare everyone, even two Popes. But it is not good for our Faith and Church. Pope Francis is our Pontiff and we are under an obligation to respect him. But this is only one of the parts of the problem. Pope Francis is (I am very sorry) very primitive preacher. He has already told to the world many stupid and injurious things. Comparing him with ex-Pope Ratzinger – the great thinker, theologian, writer and simply wise and cultural man is like to compare a hen with an eagle.

    • Gordis85

      Your sad commentary is why I do not care for the “let’s compare popes” blogs as they allow many to generalize, speculate, and just be uncharitable without having any facts to back up their claims such as yours, “very primitive preacher” or “he has already told to the world many stupid and injurious things.”
      I respectfully disagree with your opinion and we all have a right to disagree or agree and say so therefore, where is your proof of such? Do the thousands of faithful who attend the Sunday Angelus agree with your assertions? What of the many faithful who say they are moved by the simple yet profound words of Papa Francis? What of those who say they never related to Benedict yet find themselves coming back to the faith, especially, to the sacrament of Penance, having been inspired by Papa Francis?
      Yes, Papa Benedict was a good pope but I also believe many were no longer listening and had fallen asleep and could not relate to him. It is not he who is to blame but the Lord Jesus knows and saw fit to send a new pastor for His Church to “relate to the more humble and the least thought of” as many of us are not scholars nor theologians yet hunger for a closeness to the Lord in a language and in a presence that speaks to our hearts. Papa Benedict spoke yes, but Papa Francis also does in his simple, earnest, profound, faith filled words.
      In my opinion, both are treasures and both are to be respected since they both represent our Lord Jesus. Papa Benedict has pledged his fidelity and his obedience to Papa Francis…I do the same and give thanks to God that both are examples to follow on the royal road that leads to Christ.

  • Michael O’Keefe

    Most of the comparisons that I hear are ugly. Lots of proletarian snobbery, and accusations of Benedict being stuck up from non-Catholics and the secular press. In turn, they think that Francis is apparently made in their own image (?!?) People who wouldn’t say good morning to their enemy if Francis told them to are suddenly identifying with him as “more real”, whatever the h*** that means.

    It’s fine when the media do it, as they are easy to ignore. I think it’s offensive when the faithful do it, at least publicly.

  • http://www.thewinedarksea.com/ Melanie B

    I feel like I’m more tuned in to Pope Francis on the day to day level too. But I love Pope Benedict. I’m with Sarah, to me comparing them is like comparing my love for my children. I ooh and ahh every time the new baby does a cute thing and call her the cutest baby in the world, even though the previous four all did the exact same things. I love the others no less, but I’m learning how to fall in love with her. For me at least it’s a similar process with Pope Francis. I already knew and loved Benedict and for me exclaiming over Pope Francis kissing babies or doing all the other beautiful things that he does is like exclaiming over the new baby. It’s part of the process of getting to know him, dare I say of falling in love with him. At the same time I do see that some of the comparisons in the media are negative and meant to be derogatory toward Pope Benedict. And that does make me sad because he is such a beautiful, holy man.


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