It used to be said that more sycophantic monsignori in the Vatican in the 1950s would fall to their knees when they picked up the phone and heard it was Pope Pius XII speaking. Have we returned to such an age? Are we living through a new time where every papal word is given fawning treatment, where auguries on Facebook and Twitter pick through the entrails of every interview, sermon, letter, phone call, or press conference?
Though a scholar of the papacy, I have tried to avoid saying much about the two recent interviews of Pope Francis — to say nothing of the ululating they have engendered on the part of “conservative” or “traditionalist” Catholics. Equally I have ignored the vulgar and self-congratulatory crowing those interviews have generated on the part of so-called liberals, whether Catholic or not.
My deliberate silence was a small and, it now seems, vain attempt to demonstrate by action what I believe by conviction: that we all need to stop talking about the pope; he is not worth fretting over.
We are drowning under far too much commentary on the papacy, almost all of it adolescent and fatuous. With so many hyperventilating over every word, and people alternately predicting catastrophe or a new springtime for the Catholic Church, it’s time that everyone (especially Catholics) observes the blunt counsel of Thomas Merton. Merton, a monk who died suddenly in 1968, once summed up the wisdom of the Desert Fathers of early Christian monasticism thus: “Shut up and go to your cell!” People running on at the mouth are not able to pray to God in the silence of the heart, which is the only truly important job for everyone. (More here).
The point of our faith is not the Pope. It is Jesus Christ. That is what the Pope himself keeps saying, to the confusion of uncomprehending progressives and reactionaries, who think the faith is about something else–in this case, the pope.
My point in defending the pope is not, as his accusers keep insisting, that he is above all question and that his every stray action and remark is infallible. It is that he is innocent until proven guilty and awful lot of people are ready to accuse him of heresy on the flimsiest provocation. Heck. In the comboxes over at the Register the other day, some guy was trying to accuse him of heresy for *not* being a polytheist. (Francis’ crime: he remarked that there is no Catholic God but simply God. The Inquisitor is now behaving like a weird mix of Radical Traditionalist and sola Scriptura Protestant, appealing to the Bible to “prove” that there are actually lots and lots of gods. And he apparently does not mean “creatures we honor above the one true God” but “other supreme beings, of which the Catholic God happens to be top dog”. It’s this kind of stupidity that we wind up with when every random layperson starts poring over everything the pope says and does under the conviction that God anointed them Grand Inquisitor and set them the task of microanalyzing him for telltale signs of heresy.
He’s the pope. He hasn’t said or done anything heretical. He won’t say or do anything heretical. Relax.