Poking the Pope

The Holy Father’s interview published today is the first time we’ve had a chance for an in depth look at the man. One of the frustrating things about his papacy so far is that it has been big on dramatic gestures and small on content. There’s not anything wrong with that. He clearly prefers the off the cuff remark and the spontaneous homily to the careful, well thought out theological treatise. It is also true that he has the style of a prophet, and prophets are good at preaching through dramatic gestures and actions as well as words.

His interview reveals a simple man of the poor–a compassionate and humble man who has people as the heart of his concern. He wishes for a church that is outgoing, creative and risk taking. He wants a gospel that is lived in a compassionate, forgiving and Christ-like manner. He pushes against a Catholicism that is legalistic, puritanical and condemnatory. He wants a church that reaches out to the poor, the rejected and the forgotten. He wants to show a church that loves the sinner.

All this is well and good, but I have some worries. Every pope is both empowered and limited by his own history and culture. Pope Francis is from a generation and a culture which is Catholic. For the most part everyone is Catholic. They understand the basics of Christian morality and the fundamentals of the Christian story and the basic elements of the Catholic faith. Too often, however, that Catholic culture was impeded by a Church that had become overly clericalized, legalistic, condemnatory and hide bound.

Francis’ message to that kind of Catholic culture and that kind of Catholic Church is sharp and necessary. It’s fresh, creative and powerful. He’s basically saying, “Get out of your churchiness and get into the streets. Be with the people and share your faith together and bring Christ to those who have forgotten how to find him in the church.” As such his message is relevant and vital for the Church in South America and Central America where Catholics are being wooed away by Evangelicals who do present a vital, relevant and compassionately involved message.”

Francis’ message of forgiveness, acceptance and embrace of all works well enough in a Catholic culture where people know they are sinners and have a basic understanding of confession, reconciliation, forgiveness and healing. The problem in translating Francis’ message to post-Christian Europe, Liberal Protestant America and other developed countries is that most of the population either have no concept of sin in their lives or they deny the idea completely. Therefore Francis’ message of forgiveness, acceptance and embrace simply comes across as condoning whatever lifestyle people happen to have chosen. Catholics might make the distinction between loving the sinner and hating the sin…non Catholics both don’t and won’t make that distinction. Consequently, the Pope’s message simply comes across as him being a real nice guy who doesn’t judge anybody–like everybody else in our relativistic society.

Within his own largely Catholic context the Pope’s message works, but in our own culture his message is in danger of being interpreted as wishy washy, mealy mouthed liberal gobbledegook. He is saying to the homosexual person–”God loves and accepts you and so do I. But you need to sincerely seek him and turn from your sin.” The secular Westerner simply hears him say, “Hey man, I’m OK. You’re OK.” He says, “Neither to I condemn you go and sin no more” and they hear him say, “Neither do I condemn you. Do what you want.”

My point can be made by an illustration from real life. When I was in El Salvador on a mission trip we celebrated Corpus Christi in the local village church. Everybody in the town turned out for the procession. We went from station to station saying prayers and the whole population either actively participated or they at least looked on and understood what was happening. In that context the idea that the priest would receive a sinner with compassion and forgiveness fits. Its a language they all understood. They knew the church’s teaching on sin. They therefore understood forgiveness. The priest’s acceptance was all part of the forgiveness he offered. For the priest to reject and condemn them would also be understood to be a bad thing.

If I had a Eucharistic procession in Greenville, South Carolina (where less than 4% of the population are Catholic and a good number of the majority are actually anti-Catholic) nobody would understand what was going on. In our society the idea that a priest offers forgiveness and reconciliation is incomprehensible. For that matter that a priest would condemn anyone is also incomprehensible. They don’t have any idea what a priest is and what he’s for to start with. For that matter an alarming number of Catholics don’t seem to know either!

Francis’ language therefore of compassion, forgiveness and reaching out is dependent on a society that has a Catholic worldview and vocabulary. Where I live that culture and vocabulary does not exist. If I just went out wearing my cassock– to the troubled part of town where my parish is located and tried to reach out to people they would simply think I was a kind social worker in a dress.

This is not to criticize the essentials of Francis’ message–simply saying that in other contexts much more is needed than the priest simply being a nice guy that forgives and accepts everyone. In his culture that action communicates the love and mercy of God because the people have that as part of their worldview. Where I live the very basics of the Catholic message need to be communicated clearly–and that includes some basic communication about sin.

Francis’ call to get out and share the gospel through compassion and acceptance is vital and necessary, but in some parts of the church a more explicit explanation and defense of the faith will also be necessary. People cannot be forgiven unless they ask for forgiveness and they cannot know their need of forgiveness unless they realize they are sinners and they cannot realize they are sinners without someone first bringing the message to them.

In other words, there can be no healing if the disease is not first diagnosed.

UPDATE: K-Lo comments on the Pope’s interview for Fox News here.


  • kap65

    Thank you…well said.

  • http://rosarynovice.stblogs.com/ Augustine

    Perhaps the Holy Spirit gave the Church a pope to affirm Catholic countries in order to stem the exodus of Holy Mother Church and enliven them.

    I think that post-Christian countries might even benefit a little from it. As for liberal Protestant countries, as long as the pope is Catholic, they’re against him, much like they were about JPII and BXVI.

    Let’s face it, men outside the Church, but of good will, found an interlocutor in both JPII and BXVI and will find F to be a pope to dialog with too. Those of ill will will continue distorting and trying to co-opt the message given by whomever succeeds Peter.

  • Paul Adams

    Yes! There is a strong need to find ways of welcoming in and back pastorally and warmly those in irregular situations (most obviously those who have remarried after divorce and have children by the new marriage). But the challenge for us is in part how to combine pastoral sensitivity and flexibility in addressing specific situations with doctrinal clarity where the Church’s teaching is held in contempt. It is how to apply the language of sin, repentance, and forgiveness in a cultural context where the Church and religious freedom are under relentless attack and even suggesting there is anything to repent or forgive in the first place may be regarded as hate speech and cost you your livelihood.

    • Mary

      Do you have any suggestions, Paul? Fr.’s article and your comment have really resonated with me, but I am at a loss on what this would actually look like on a massive scale. I can (sort of) see what it would look like in our personal relationships.

      • KL

        I think that’s the Pope’s point. It’s not on a massive scale. It’s in our everyday relationships, seeing Jesus in each person we meet and meeting that person where he or she is.

        • Paul Adams

          Mary, I think KL is right, but so is Father. Take a look at how the NY Times reported the interview and the hundreds of hateful comments that followed. It really isn’t that the Church is obsessed with homosexuality and contraception (abortion is a different matter for obvious reasons – not just a matter of being compassionate to those who have had abortions and regret them, but the ongoing slaughter of innocents in their millions justified as a constitutional right…). It’s that the enemies of the Church are obsessed with these issues and determined to use them to destroy her. (When did you last hear a homily about homosexuality? But for the NYT, that is the litmus test by which all else is judged. Look at how little time the Pope devoted to homosexuality in the interview, compared with the emphasis given it by the NYT.)

          We need to be absolutely clear on what the Church teaches on these issues or we fall into the moral relativism of our secular society – not go and sin no more, but carry right on and we will not judge. But we also need to be clear about our own sinfulness first of all, as the Pope says, and also accepting and loving of all sinners. But it is not compassionate to pretend there is no such thing as sin.

          Mary, I have been on the receiving end of two different approaches to divorce and remarriage, in different parishes and dioceses. One tried to be “pastoral” by being lax and minimizing the moral issues involved, the other was also pastoral, but in a realistic way that acknowledged sin, repentance, and forgiveness, and that reinforced the positive teaching of the Church on marriage, family, and sexuality. My worry is that talk of the Church being “obsessed” with these issues, when it is really our enemies who are obsessed with them, is not helpful.

          • tapestrygarden

            EXACTLY. I NEVER hear homilies about sexual issues. In fact I often hear complaints by Catholics that they don’t hear the Church’s teaching. So often CATHOLICS don’t understand their faith. It doesn’t sound like gay marriage and abortion are being covered very often…other than in the imagination of the media and the gay and pro abortion lobbies

        • Li Min

          That is how Mother Teresa talked as well—reminding us to see Jesus in our families. So many families today are broken; truly destroyed and falling apart. We need to start with our family members and friends. Show them our love and mercy. Show them our concern but most importantly pray for them too. This is a huge reminder for myself, as well as everyone I think in America.

  • EdwardHu

    Can you imagine the news it would be if someone found a quote directly attributable to Pope Pius XII in which he had said “The Catholic Church was _obsessed_ with saving Jews!”

  • pedroerik

    I completely agree with you. But I would add that even in Brazil (I am Brazilian) his message in Brazilian newspapers is read only as arguing that he does not condemn no one, and people can do what they want, they only need to (say that ) love God

    • Athelstane

      If the temptation of Catholic societies in ages past (or Catholic societies in the present age) was/is an excessive moral rigorism, the temptation of ours is a universalist antinomianism. Everyone’s saved, and what you do doesn’t really matter – well, almost anything.

      And yes, it’s an increasing problem even South America. It’s not clear that the Holy Father appreciates the filters that his message is being received through by other audiences – audiences that he doesn’t know so well.

      That’s not to look down on Il Papa for his cultural origins; I imagine that European Popes have not always understood South American societies as well as Francis does. But in a world where the dominant cultural ethos is emanating from the developed, western world, the urgency is increasingly on comprehending those filters.

      • AugustineThomas

        Nope, and we wouldn’t have been racist for exploring how European secular culture might have tainted a European people’s message.

  • Neil

    What I really want to know, is why the Cardinals elected him. Plus, let us remember that the Holy Spirit inspires the Cardinals, but they can choose to ignore Him (as the then Cardinal Ratzinger observed. Just saying…).

    • Dave Smith

      Does the Holy Spirit really inspired the Cardinals? I have my doubts. Maybe Fr. L can give some insight here.

  • Joe

    I do love his gospel message and his desire to teach Catholicism as one whole truth, not as bits and pieces. But I am concerned about the application of his method as the interpretation of his words will surly become wide ranging and susceptible to personal interpretation. In other words, “Hello Father. I continue devalue people, enable abortion, and live in decadence.” “Well my child, let’s not worry about any of that just yet. Let’s just mitigate the consequences for that for now and spring the truth on you later.”

  • nodrog

    Thank you for this. As an atheist who has always dismissed concepts of original sin, redemption, etc, this provided me with a fascinating perspective on an shifting aspect of global culture I’m almost totally unfamiliar with. I think your perspective on how his words are perceived within the church vs in non-Catholic cultures is particularly interesting. Really, I forget that Catholicism is actually important to so many people because it’s completely absent from my life and the people in it. This was an interesting reminder.

    • AugustineThomas

      God bless you sir! You are closer to Christ than many of these modern accusers.

    • Li Min

      As a convert to Catholicism, I know how true this perception is (or lack thereof). There is really no active Catholic culture in many parts of the US anymore. Many children today come from broken homes, often with multiple step-parents or step-siblings, moving from one neighborhood to the next due to instability of jobs, as well as a whirlwind of church choices depending where or whom you are. I grew up Methodist but when I was a teen I wanted to find the truth. There were too many churches in the area, but people didn’t seem to really talk about church outside of church (and that is what the article points to). I didn’t see nuns or priests in habit on a daily basis. Even Catholic kids I knew didn’t talk about their religion openly. I only saw Catholicism on tv and that is how I became interested in it–and also through prayer. I asked God to show me the Truth and He led me to His One True Church. I did this alone without family support and often had to walk to Mass over an hour, on the highway, just to get to church—because I was on my own once I became Catholic. So I understand the emptiness in America and the lack of spirituality despite all the spiritual books on the market. :)

  • DeaconJohnMBresnahan

    In his own way Pope Francis seems a captive of the media. When a pope talks about anything but the “sex” issues, the media ignores him. If he talks even a speck on these issues it becomes the whole story. Over many years I have heard almost no sermons on these issues. Yet Pope Francis talks as if it is the Church which is obsessed by these issues. It is not. It is the media. . Look at the very long interview with the pope that is in the news–as I sit here CBS News is talking only of the “sex” issues (and distorting what the pope said). It seems the pope has bought the caricature of those who want to uphold Catholic moral teaching. But the only way it can be upheld is to not be afraid of how the media will over-emphasize and attack any words that go against the media’s preferred morality.

    • TomD

      I agree Deacon John. One of the ironies today is that Catholics are accused of focusing on the sexual issues, in some sense even accused of this now by Pope Francis himself, when it is has always been those seeking to radically transform society who have made this the overwhelming obsession that it has become. And that many in the media are actively engaged in this obsession with those who wish to radically transform our culture should be obvious to all fair-minded people.

      Pope Francis, and those who advise him, must be more careful in considering how his words and actions will be used by others . . . especially by opponents of the Church and her teachings.

      • TapestryGarden

        And a big AMEN from me as well. How much of the media’s time related to Church activities is focused on the HUGE amount of time, talent and treasure devoted to caring for the poor, the sick, the marginalized? How many times do we hear about the selfless devotion of our Priests to serving the Church and their flock? How many hours are spent showing Catholic Religious in hospitals, soup kitchens, schools? Not much. Instead we hear about a school dismissing a Lesbian teacher who violated her contract or about a militant and aggressive Lesbian who made an issue of receiving the Eucharist at her mother’s funeral? Or a gay man who demanded his homosexual relationship be blessed as a sacramental marriage? Or the woman who ordained herself a priest? Or the “Nuns on the Bus?”

        The Church has far more important work than passing judgment on individuals’ sex lives. But the media isn’t interested in hearing about it. Only the big bad boogyman of restrictions on self absorption and persona desires make the headlines.

        • pennyroyal

          all I hear about is Catholics in Warwick RI enraged because of a prayer banner in a public school had to be taken down. It promoted religion and was thus unconstitutional. The unChristian language of opponents of this, mostly Catholic in this Catholic town, made vile insinuations and language toward the 16-year-old girl who made the complaint.
          It was NOT the press.

          You, sirs and madam, are misinformed. It’s paranoid to think the press is out to get you. If anything, the press is ignorant and so bends over backwards to print what you say.

      • CatherineA

        I suspect the problem is not with his advisers, but that he chooses to disregard them. He has certainly disregarded his security team, and although many people find this charming, I find it very disturbing. He has significantly increased the risk of a member of his team, or some innocent bystander, being killed as a result.

      • pennyroyal

        that sounds paranoid, to watch every word. The good new pope Francis is a natural. Let him speak from his heart.

    • Apotheoun

      Great post Deacon John.

    • Paul Adams

      Exactly right, Deacon John! It is depressing to see Pope Francis blame the Church rather than the media for the obsession with sex issues. As is the custom with the Superior-General of the Jesuits, the Holy Father urgently needs an Admonitor of his own.

      • Chesire11

        I think His Holiness is blaming the Church for an inadequate response to the media fixation on these few issues. He seems to me to be saying that, on these particular issues, the media ensures that a little goes a long way, and that we need to take that into consideration, and be more forceful in our assertion of the other elements of the Catholic message that won;t be amplified by the media. If we do not take that into account, we become complicit in the distortion of the message

        Basically, just as a speaker must modulate his or her voice to take into account whether he has a microphone or not, so we need to modulate based upon whether the message is being amplified by the media or not.

      • pennyroyal

        maybe he’s thinking of taking the beam out of your own eye first before telling others to take the mote out of another person’s…..
        I’m a theology school graduate and served as an interfaith hospice chaplain. All the wonderful Catholics it was my privilege to serve during my 6 years, I’m sure are delighted with his concern with ordinary, struggling Catholics.

        Also it’s naive to state that he’s speaking only to the faithful.

    • EdwardHu

      Well said. Right on the mark.

    • Li Min

      Mainstream media want to condone homosexuality and I’ve noticed CNN has on almost a daily basis, something pro-homosexual on their front page. They also focus on abortion (from their own angle) and ignore almost all pro-life activities. They gave hardly any mention to the March for Life in D.C. and other states even though thousands were marching in that effort. The media monster needs to be changed, boycotted, taken over by another owner—something. It is obvious mainstream media has gravely corrupted American morals and mindset and that needs to be stopped.

      • Anita Lay

        The mainstream media and their cousins in Hollywood are the largest collective sewer in the world.

    • pennyroyal

      I’m sorry to tell you that Catholics and ex-Catholics I know have told me they are fed up with those sermons obsessed with reviling gays/gay marriage and demanding a hard line against abortion rights.

      Bishop Tobin of RI railed against gay marriage (the proposed law to accept equal marriage went nowhere for 16 years due to a lobbyist in the state house and a dozen prominent ultra-Catholic senators holding the line. If you look at that history (it was passed this year!!), you’ll see much intolerance and a near obsession with getting the laity to conform.

      So it’s not the press. When former cardinal Bernard Law was stone-walling about the clergy sexual abuse crisis, Catholics wrote the Boston Globe and accused them of being anti-Catholic. That ended when Law’s true perfidy was found out.

      • Tapestrygarden

        They are not “sermons” they are called homilies. Further as a weekly Mass going Catholic I have NEVER heard a homily about gay marriage or abortion or contraception. It IS the press which isn’t at all interested in the positive and compassionate efforts by the Church but is obsessed with convincing Catholics that gay marriage and abortion are just fine thank you very much. I would be money your education in religion is with one of the very liberal denominations and that you think these issues are up for discussion and change.

      • Jean-Francois

        So whats your suggestion. Ignore these teachings? Tell people that they can continue to sin? Practically every television show has to have a homosexual character or pro-homosexual message. Is that the Catholic Churchs doing. So are we wrong to respond to that? Should we just forget about it? Should we tell our children who see it that that lifestyle is okay?

  • Mike

    Wow, the main stream media had me bummed out. You know, living a good life, doing acts of kindness, trying to be compassionate, praying daily, giving money for the church’s bill and the poor. Then, at least according to the main stream media, one is an unrepentant sinner acting out and doesn’t have a consequence. The MSM made it sound like do what you want gets a free pass

  • tracymoschelspenst

    I’ve been reading some articles on this topic and one thing I think we tend to forget is the origin of JPII and BXVI. Their growing-up years were in the time of war, as well as growing Naziism and Communism. They learned to be cautious at an early age. Stealth was what defeated the enemy there. Pope Francis is, as you have said, from a different place and background. The need where he is from is for out-spoken defense of the poor and marginalized. My hope is that he will quickly realize the cultural differences you have noted and learn to be more prudent in his speech, knowing that the whole world is told what he says, not just those of his own culture.

  • Chesire11

    I disagree.

    For decades the Church has been thwarted by a culture that has constructed a shibboleth of our Holy Mother. In the popular conception, the Church is a citadel of judgement, and condemnation – an unforgiving and thoroughly joyless place filled with twisted old men plotting the subjugation of everyone else to their twisted wills. This is juxtaposed against the easy appeal of a superficial existence spent in pursuit of banal amusements and avoiding anything that smacks of sacrifice or suffering.

    Framed in that way, there is no contest, and two whole generations have chosen to “laugh with the sinners” rather than to n”cry with the saints.” They literally see NOTHING of what the Church truly is.

    His Holiness has confronted that false image of the Church head on, presenting a Church that is merciful and offers healing to the wounds modern man assumes are inescapable. He shows a joyful option, a better way, and he gets them to listen. I can’t tell you how many people on liberal political blogs have expressed surprise at the very orthodox things he has said. They are hearing them for the first time, not because it is the first time they are being said, but because it is the first time they have wanted to listen. What follows from that is curiosity. “How can the Pope of such a homophobic organization be so compassionate to people with same-sex attraction?” The answer is that it is not a homophobic organization, but a loving mother solicitous of all of its children, and true compassion lies not in permissivity, but in loving care and mercy. But nobody hears the answer unless they are first led to the question with an honest curiosity.

    Every time the Church has played it safe, we have gotten ourselves into trouble. It has always been through audacious trust in the Holy Spirit that we have thrived and witnessed effectively to the Truth, even in the face of brutal persecutions. Blessed John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and the work of the Second Vatican Council set collected the dynamite, and now Francis is lighting the fuse.

    • Rebecca Duncan

      *sigh* never mind. Good post Fr. Dwight.

    • AugustineThomas

      Please give some examples, you’re always hinting at angry, rude “trads” kicking everyone out of the Church.. I can’t seem to find them and its usually more progressive Catholics who are trying to boot the orthodox for hurting your feelings by reminding you of your sin–inadvertently, I’ve literally never seen a Latin Mass attended say something offensive to a Novus Ordo bloke, but already during my short attendance, I’ve had a couple suggestive statements about the “weirdness” of me attending the Latin Mass. These people sure seem to be glorifying themselves at our expense, not witnessing to Christ.

      • Chesire11

        Read the comments section at any Catholic blog, and it won’t take long to find someone willing to describe progressive Catholics as people who are working to destroy the Church from within, or who mock the piety of our women religious, stereotyping them all as a bunch of delusional hippies.

        Heck, go check out some of Michael Voris’ stuff!

        Please don’t misconstrue what I am saying. Progressive Catholics who pick and choose which elements of the Truth are palatable to them, who are pro-Choice, who reject the Magisterium are wrong and need correction, but correction with charity. I agree wholeheartedly with the findings of the doctrinal assessment of the LCWR – ALL of them, not simply the operative ones concerning the heterodoxy of their invited speakers, but also the plaudits for their corporal acts of mercy.

        I am also not looking to “boot” traditionalists out of the Church. My point is that our Holy Mother is home to both Opus Dei, and Dorothy Day, to the Little Flower and to St. Thomas Aquinas. We are not a narrow church, we are the Catholic Church, and we need Michael Voris Catholics, and we need social justice Catholics. We are One Body, with many parts, but we all too often neglect wither the former, or the latter element of that construction.

        • kwdayboise

          Thanks for your comments and I would like to add just a little something to it. I converted to the Church, gaining increasing insight through the process. My wife, friends, and family all expressed trepidation over the choice. Why would I want to join a faith that was so hateful, so hypocritical

        • kwdayboise

          Thanks for your comments and I’d like to add a little something. I converted to the church. This was met with a great deal of trepidation by my wife, family, and friends. How could I join a church that was so hateful, so hypocritical, so arcane? Having read fairly deeply into the church I knew there was a depth of passion and compassion in the church that was invisible from the outside, that expresses itself in Teresa of Avila, Bonaventure, and countless others. Sadly that isn’t evident when “spokespersons” for the church act more like members of the Westboro Baptist clan.

          As I entered the church and became more deeply interactive with it. As I read more and prayed more, I became more aware of the breadth of my sins, of the distance between goodness and me, of my path and my vocation. How can others come to the greatness of the church and discover themselves in it if the church seems so unwelcome?

          Christ didn’t just love sinners, he sought out sinners. He risked his reputation to find and embrace them, to show them they were loved and let the sins burn away in the light of that love. Francis, thank God, seems to understand that and I’m delighted that for the first time since I joined the church that the sinners I love seem more open to the faith and what I saw hidden in it.

    • Charles Agyeman

      I wish I knew you, I’d spend an evening in prayer with you for the Holy Father. May God bless and keep you my brother/sister/friend!

      • Chesire11

        …and you as well. :)

        • Patty

          @Chesire11 Good stuff! Do you have a blog? I would love to read more of your thoughts. And who is your avatar?

          • Chesire11

            I don’t have a blog, just a ton of opinions, and the arrogance to express them. ;?) I do have a fb profile (Chesire Cat) that I use as a blog of sorts, where I post about religion and politics, primarily. You are welcome to visit (though I warn you, conservatievs tend to consider me liberal, and liberals tend to see me as conservative)

            My avatar is Rutherford B. Hayes, 19th President of the United States. It’s a bit of a long story, but in a moment of silliness on another blog, in jest, I once feigned worshipful admiration for Hayes as the greatest president ever, and it became a bit of a running joke…the avatar became part of it, and it has stuck ever since. :)

    • LauraM

      Chesire11, thank you thank you. You have articulated so much, so beautifully and movingly, that I’m going to save your post.

    • Li Min

      I think Fr’s article here explains the Holy Father’s attitude. He is a very simplistic man or at least spiritually, but if he were to see how the media have twisted his interview and made it something it is not—perhaps he will reconsider how he answers things. I know for myself that as a lay Catholic I must be very careful to answer spiritual questions with non-Catholics, keeping the answers short and to the point because most people will not hear the rest. That is what the media did, they filtered out only what they wanted to hear. Studies show people only take in 50% of what they hear or see in communication. If this is true, that is not a good thing when talking about Church teachings. The interview with the pope was excellent—Pope Francis made great points on the teachings, but MOST Americans will not read the full interview. They will only get bits and pieces from the press.

      • Chesire11

        Two quick points in response, first, Pope Francis is simple, not simplistic. The subtlety and nuance of his answers in the interview are far from simplistic. No, our Holy Father is simple, but far from being a flaw, that should be understood to be a virtue among the people of a God who is the embodiment of simplicity itself.

        Second…TRUST! Trust in the Holy Spirit at work in His Church. Trust that His way will always prevail over the crooked, and confused mind of man. When the Holy Church was roiled with heterodox “innovations”, He raised up Blessed John Paul II, and Benedict XVI to reassert what it means to be Catholic. They were the right popes for their times, and it is testamentary to the excellence of their work that the tide of dissent has been quelled, and the Church once more has a clear sense of mission. This is a different time, and the challenge isn’t heterodoxy, but the twin threats of indifference, and narrow fascination.

        It falls to Pope Francis to kindle a fire on earth with the message that was once obscured, and is now ignored, or distorted. The Holy Spirit guards and guides the Church; with such a patron timidity, and caution are heralds of defeat. It is audacity in faith that will win the day.

        (Okay, so maybe that wasn’t exactly brief…)

    • Jean Spearing

      The popular conception of the Church as a citadel of judgement, and condemnation is their own fault because they refuse to see what the Church plainly is right in front of their eyes. Go spend some time on protestant or atheist blogs and see how closed mind these people are.

      • Chesire11

        That is part of it, but most of it, in my opinion (my opinions tend to be anything but humble, I’m afraid!), is the fault of the Catholic clergy, and the Catholic laity.

        The clergy which shuttered our schools, and abandoned its mission of faith formation to your neighbor’s kid’s mom’s hour of CCD every Wednesday night between soccer practice and homework left the faithful ignorant of our patrimony, and allowed the enemies of our Holy Mother to propagate every calumny imaginable against her with nary a word in reply.

        The laity who carefully segregated our faith, confining it to a Sunday morning ghetto that they visited for 45 mins, and from which they hastened without even waiting for the benediction, failed to live lives rooted in Christ, they failed to show the world the face of Christ.

        All that was left for the world to see were the condemnations, and the prohibitions juxtaposed against one hell of a party (pun firmly intended).

        • Brian Anthony

          yes yes yes yes exactly.

          • pennyroyal

            blame gets you nowhere except stuck and in misery…

        • oregon catholic

          I think you can lay the blame for the closing of Catholic schools at a lot of different feet. The nuns who abandoned their orders and left schools bereft of teachers formed in the faith and leaving the schools to pay much higher salaries to their secular replacements. The faithful who stopped coming to church and supporting the local parish school through the collections and fund raisers. The parents who chose to find other uses for the parish school tuition dollars than sending their kids there. Just to name a few.

          • Chesire11

            I couldn’t agree with you more.

          • FRLBJ

            Why did the nuns leave their orders? Because they were told and encouraged by the bishops and priests to be open to the world! So Carl Rogers started transforming the nuns, into witches in many cases. The shepherds were not vigilant. They still aren’t. Everyday dissident priests are allowed to abuse the Holy Mass and to preach heresy! Pope Francis is out of touch with the real world, if he can’t see that the moral lapses are the cause of the loneliness and the unemployment among other things. I would not pick out what he did as being the two worst problems of the age.
            And that he admires Martini and even liberation theology is the worst news! Lord, please deliver us from his inept governance!

  • Dave Smith

    I am afraid Pope Francis will lead many souls astray. He sows confusion.

  • Stu


    Between you and Father Z, you both have done a great job in giving this perspective. I applaud both the content and the tone.

    I don’t know if any of the Holy Father’s advisors would be characterized as “traditional” (not saying they aren’t in the general sense) but I really do believe that with a few tweaks in his presentation, he could not only energize the laity into action but at the same send some very good signals with regard to the Church and her traditions.

    • AugustineThomas

      Notice how one of the “more holy” Novus Ordo Catholics gave you a down vote for an extremely positive comment.. Who is really threatened by whose spirituality here? (Usually the side that starts threatening to suppress the other side–maybe Jose learned too well from the Junta.)

  • Katalina

    I agree with Neil why was he elected at all? I think the Cardinals could have done much better with no disrespect for Francis intended. They might have picked someone younger like Raymond Burke who is only 64 in better health and has more experience in the Church. It seems they picked him just because they liked his personality. We needed a clear strong leader who would not consider traditionalist his enemy rather than other forces in the Church. Marc Oullett, should have accepted, because he has the experience is younger and would not need to be constantly clarified. Francis knew in 2005 he was not up to the job even back than. And I am sorry but I do not think he is up to the job now 8 years later IMHO.

    • Illinidiva

      So a clerical bishop who likes dressing up in ridiculous, bedazzled vestments is what the Catholic Church should be projecting to the world? Raymond Burke has shown lots of intolerance but not one iota of pastoral care.

      And I’m actually disappointed that Cardinal Bergoglio wasn’t elected in 2005. He is clearly very good at the job and has a clear vision of how he wants to transform the Church.

      • AugustineThomas

        You’re falling into Bergoglio’s trap of suggesting that wearing beautiful garments makes holiness impossible.

        Check out Pope Benedict XVI if you’ve never read or heard of him..

        • Stu

          I don’t think the Pope believes that as a general rule. I think that he believes such for himself. Now overall, I disagree with that viewpoint because his Office is not about him and his personal tastes. But I don’t question his motives.

        • blessedx4inTX

          I have hesitated to respond, but I need to ask something of you. No matter how you feel towards our Holy Father, please refer to him respectfully. Calling him Bergoglio seems to be rather demeaning of the office he holds. Thank you and God Bless~

          • Mara319

            It is perfectly acceptable especially among Europeans and the Catholic media to refer to a pope with his family name, i.e., Pope Bergoglio, Pope Ratzinger, etc. (See Sandro Magister.) No disrespect intended, I am sure.

          • blessedx4inTX

            I wish I was as sure as you. If Augustine were to refer to all Popes with last names, I could agree. He talks of Benedict and JPII, using Bergoglio to refer to Pope Francis. That was why I finally responded. Blessings~

        • Illinidiva

          It certainly makes it difficult to talk about the poor and be taken seriously.

          As for Francis and Benedict, I am objectively looking at the two. Francis appears much, much better at the job than his predecessor.

          • Mara319

            Illinidiva, you must be one of the rich – You’ve just insulted the poor. The poor actually like and understand the meaning behind those vestments. Hit those books that explain the meaning of the Liturgy and the priesthood.

          • Illinidiva

            Because people in Brazilian favelas have extensive education in liturgical theology?

          • Ty

            I’m poor and Catholic and I like those vestments.

      • Stu


      • Dick Hertz

        Another “progressive” Catholic. Keep it moving, folks, Nothing to see here. Keep walking.

        “Liberalism is a mental disease.” – Dr. Michael Savage

      • Athelstane

        Raymond Burke has shown lots of intolerance but not one iota of pastoral care.

        Those of us who knew him in St. Louis – really knew him, really followed him, not just read the Post-Dispatch stories and op-eds – have a very different story to tell. It’s a shame you’re so quick to judge him. He’s one of the gentlest men I have ever encountered.

        I do think it was not entirely fair of Katalina to go on wistfully about men who would have made better popes than Francis. Some men *do* make better popes than others; but making this into a kind of exercise in fandom of competing papabili at this point probably isn’t helpful.

        • Illinidiva

          The parishoners at St. Stanislaus would disagree with that.

          • Athelstane

            And most of the original board of St. Stans has since reconciled with the Church, and left St. Stans, thanks to (ex-) Fr. Bozek’s increasingly heterodox episodes.

      • Mara319

        Illinidiva, If you knew the meaning of those “bedazzled vestments” you wouldn’t consider them ridiculous. Go, study and read up on the theology of the priesthood and liturgy. Then come back here to tell us what you’ve learned.

        • oregon catholic

          Jesus is our High Priest. He had no need of vestments and high altars and incense at the Last Supper. He died naked on a cross. Acting in persona Christi has no need of external trappings.

          The royal trappings you are so fond of are more consistent with a noble European sensibility or even the Jewish Temple priesthood than anything to do with Jesus or the apostolic period following His death. That’s the period where the original liturgy was developed and people met in homes to share the Eucharist. Pomp and ceremony came much later. Your ‘tradition’ is actually new fangled if you want to get precise about it. There is more similarity between the NO and the Last Supper than there is with a high Latin Mass. Such radical focus on it is form over function, style over substance. This is why staunch traditionalists who look down their noses at the NO so frequently get compared to the Pharisees of Jesus’ time.

    • Anita Lay

      Cardinal Burke would have the perfect choice.

  • FW Ken

    Fr. L, I think you overstate the reality of a “post-Christian” culture in which people lack a sense of sin. My opinion is that the pope talking about mercy will stir up a lot of inner feelings that people have but deny. Talking about Christian morality will confirm them in their self-righteouness. At some point, the truth of God’s grace will stir up the sense of sin that people never really lose.

    Just my observation from years of working with people.

  • Dave Zelenka

    It’s the 1 lost sheep that Christ goes after. The 99 “righteous” don’t need Jesus. Pope Francis is looking for those lost sheep. He knows they need the sacraments. It’s all about the sacraments. That is the purpose of the church in this age.That is where Jesus is found living. We need to allow people to the sacraments…and with honestly…whether they know they are sinners or not. Jesus, in the sacraments, will transform the world.

    After this age, when we are with Christ, there will be no need for the ecclesiastical structures we have today, because we will be with our beloved Christ. But today, we should be allowing people to the sacraments and not pushing them away.

    We must be inclusive, yet at the same time stand up for the truth. And the truth is that we are sinners. It only takes a thought or a look after I’m absolved for me to become a sinner again. And if you must be sin-free to drink from the cup and eat the bread, how many of us would really be allowed to approach the table?

    And don’t get me wrong, I am saying we should be holy. But holiness is not a part of our make up. There is only one holy one: Christ Jesus. It is in him, when we become holy. All we can do is strive to be humble. Humility is our design.

    • David Paterson

      Thank you for this post, beautifully put. The eucharist is not just the manna for our exile in the desert but the salve for our wounds. We drink and eat of Him wounded and as you say, it only takes a glance and a thought…

    • OneTimothyThreeFifteen

      Hi Dave,

      Haven’t replied in a while, but always read your comments when I see them.

      You might be interested in Phil Lawler’s latest post on Catholic Culture:
      The key to understanding Pope Francis: the 99 lost sheep

      • Dave Zelenka

        Thank you. I read Phil Lawler’s piece. I agree. I like how he ended it with the thought about feeling “uncomfortable.” It is important that we feel uncomfortable in this world. Because when we look at why we are uncomfortable, we usually find that it is due to our sin.

    • Mara319

      If you do find the one lost sheep and does not tell him not to stray again, you are simply encouraging the 99 to leave the flock as well, since it’s seems okay to do as you please. “Go and sin no more,” is as much a part of Jesus’ words as, “Neither do I condemn you.”
      So yes, the 99 “righteous” ones do need Jesus. Don’t take Him away from them.

      • Dave Zelenka

        Yes, true. It’s the good son who becomes the prodigal son at the end of that parable. And Jesus leaves that one open-ended. Does the good son return?

    • Ty

      A humble person would admit his sins remorsefully. Are you saying that anyone should be able to walk into a Catholic Mass and receive Holy Communion?

      • http://www.interactive-earth.com/hope Dave Zelenka

        I’m only saying that Jesus is for those that are lost–those who are sick and those who know they are sinners. We can never come to Jesus fully cleansed. From what I understand, it’s just impossible. As Jesus himself says, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

        For reasons not expressible here, I am not allowed to share directly in the Blessed Sacrament. Many of us are excluded from the Blessed Sacrament for a variety of reasons. And don’t get me wrong. I am repentant and I pray every day, “Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner.” But the mercy of God is great. “I desire mercy, not sacrifice,” our Lord also says.

        I still go to mass because I know that when I am in the body, even though I do not directly participate, I do actually directly participate, if not only from the fumes, then also through the fellowship of the Bride. Through my baptism, I am in the body of Christ and I fully enter him each time I pray and in a special way each time I am with believers in fellowship. We are his bride and I am there also. So, I know grace is bestowed. And I love Jesus for that. But I also know that there are many others like me who need the actual Blessed Sacrament, and I hope that one day they will also be allowed to share despite their irregular situation.

        The faithful woman said to Jesus, “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” Today, that applies to us who are not allowed to the table, but who still go to mass.

        The Church must understandably sets rules and guidelines, and that is expected, however, the reality of a person’s life is more fluid and complex than that. The Church must accommodate the bloody mess that accompanies this fallen world. As Pope Francis has noted that the church is like a field hospital and we must heal the wounds before we point fingers and tell them they should drive more carefully.

  • Dave Zelenka

    One thing the Pope Francis is being accused of making ambiguous statements. Read the parables of Jesus. Talk about ambiguity! His statements and parables were designed that way. The Pharisees and the ‘righteous’ would hear one thing and the sinners would hear another thing. What is interesting is how you or I react to what Jesus says. We should analyze OUR reaction to what Pope Francis says. We should ask ourselves: “Why do I feel this way, because of what Pope Francis said? Why am I happy? Why am I sad?”

    It was because of what Jesus said, that “the rich young man went away sad.”

    IF we can do that then we will be transformed by the words that Pope Francis says. Then we will come closer to Christ Jesus.

    Jesus is teaching us through Pope Francis. He teaches us by what he says and how we react. What Pope Francis is also doing, which is truly remarkable, is he is teaching by doing. He’s catechizing us by his actions:

    When Pope Francis said to the single mother, “If you can’t find a priest to baptize your baby, I will.” He was instructing priests and laypeople alike. It’s amazing. I’m praising my Jesus.

    • AugustineThomas

      Right, except that Jesus has eternal, infinite wisdom behind him and Archbishop Borgoglio has Latin American misconceptions about the world as a whole that Saint JPII and Pope BXVI had moved past early in their spiritual journeys.
      We should have known when Pope BXVI resigned, that we were facing dangerous waters.

      God bless Pope Francis, that he remembers he’s Pontiff of the whole Church!

      • Ignatius

        “Archbishop Borgoglio has Latin American misconceptions about the world as a whole that Saint JPII and Pope BXVI had moved past early in their spiritual journeys”
        Augustine, do you know how arrogan, condescending and uninformed are your words? Do you believe Abp. Bergoglio was the bishop of some remote Pacific island in the Middle Ages?

        • AugustineThomas

          Forgive me.

          God bless Pope Francis!!!

  • naturgesetz

    Father, maybe what Pope Francis is saying is that you really should go out to those poor areas — whether or not in your cassock — and start talking to the people about God’s love for them. You won’t be mistaken for a social worker. But you’ll also need to energize your parishioners to work with you at alleviating their poverty.

  • OneTimothyThreeFifteen

    If the main themes of Our Holy Father’s papacy seem almost heretical to some, why do so many of those critics seem to be rather cozy with Opus Dei (or some of its more prominent members)? It doesn’t make sense.

    It seems to me he’s simply emphasising the central themes of Opus Dei: the loving Fatherhood of God, Divine Filiation, Divine Mercy, and Divinisation…and to me, that’s the wonderful Charism Opus Dei brings to the Church where it has swung too much towards self-reliance, scrupulosity, and legalism.

    • AugustineThomas

      I’ve never met anybody from Opus Dei, but I’m almost positive there’s something heretical about suggesting the orthodox are angering God more by witnessing to the Truth than leftists are by murderimg his children before they have a chance to take a breath and experience life on their own.

      • Francis

        Wash your mouth out! I’m a leftist and strongly pro-life if, by leftist, you mean one who has a passion for justice etc. I am also anti-capital punishment, anti-war, anti-poverty. I have to be if I am truly pro-life. I am also a conservationist deeply concerned about global warming. I have to be if I am truly pro-life. Jesus spoke more about orthopraxy than orthodoxy. In fact, without orthopraxy orthodoxy is a farce.

  • Andreas Kjernald

    I wonder how the Pope’s message fits together, i.e. is coherent with his other teachings/sermons. He recently stated, as far as I can remember, that there is no salvation/reconciliation outside of the Church. That sounds narrow although it could be true.

    He then says all this stuff about following your inner conscience and doing the best you can with the light you have.

    Doesn’t that sound a little contradictory? Or he simply saying that all who follow their conscience will become Catholics?

    • AugustineThomas

      He’s confusing everyone and making both sides hostile to each other, but he thinks demonizing the orthodox further while giving a pass or at least suggesting that certain grave sins aren’t quite as bad as certain lesser sins, (such as accidentally hurting someone’s feeling while trying to witness to the Truth), will remedy things.

      I’m praying that he remembers Saint John Paul II, who never needed to offend the orthodox in order to win over the secularists!

      • naturgesetz

        To win over the secularists? If he was winning over the secularists, why do commenters here claim that hundreds of millions of souls are in danger of being lost in Europe and North America while Pope Francis goes after fewer hundreds of millions in Latin America. If Bl. John Paul II (the canonization is scheduled, but hasn’t happened yet, so calling him Saint is getting ahead of the Church) had won over the secularists, Western culture would not still be growing more secular.

        • Ty

          I’ve heard that John Paul II’s influence has resulted in an increase in the numbers of new seminarians.

  • jarms40

    I was a little critical of you last week on another topic. I’ll make up for it by simply saying this is the very best analysis I’ve seen on this issue so far. Thank you, Father.

  • Illinidiva

    Everyone knows that the Church is against abortion, gay marriage, and contraception. People, even many Catholics, don’t know or don’t practice the other side of the message. I’ve witnessed many occasions where gay people have been marginalized and even excluded from parishes. When I was in high school, good Catholic kids thought it was okay to mock my gay friend. Perhaps we can focus on that sin as well.

    And I am not sure why people think Francis hasn’t spoken of sin.. He has. Gossip, complaining, being unkind to others, and worshipping material things are all sins. And they are sins that we commit more frequently than sexual sins. Perhaps we can focus on these as well?

    • AugustineThomas

      Please share some examples.

      Pro-life people are, in my experience, much more friendly and welcoming than those “adult” Catholics, like Fr. Jose, who are too “adult” to speak up about abortion like the genius and holy man Pope Benedict XVI.

      People who attend the Latin Mass are, in my experience, simultaneously more devout than most “Novus Ordo Catholics”, who are of course real Catholics, just perhaps often verging on heresy in their thoughts and deeds like we all have done and will do, and also more friendly and welcoming.

      I tried going to Novus Ordo for literally a decade and no one said a kind word or welcomed me into the Church.. The third or forth time I attended Latin Mass, they had me singing in the choir.

      I pray Catholics who love the Novus Ordo as much as I love the Latin Mass, to stop picking fights with us and telling us we’re ruining the Church, if you don’t want us reminding you that you dance around the line of heresy.

      • Illinidiva

        I just gave you an example from my own life.. My friend getting heckled throughout high school (parochial school) for being gay. And I don’t want this to turn into a therapy session but there are many times that I have felt excluded in the Church.

        And this wasn’t about any liturgy at all. It was about the Pope’s words. And I do think that Catholics haven’t focused on the teachings of tolerance and mercy.

        • Marianne Dobbs

          If you are over 30, chances are your friend would have been heckled at ANY school, Catholic or not. No one is suggesting that Catholics are any less capable of sin than any other human.

          So, the kids teasing your friend sinned, but I noticed that you did not equally accuse your friend of sinning. You are trying to make the point that all sin is equal, yet you clearly see the heckling as more sinful than homosexuality.

          No, the Catholic Church is not “against” abortion, homosexuality, etc. The Catholic Church (at least the one I am familiar with from days past) says that these things are SINS. Big difference. Being “against” something suggests a personal level of intolerance or judgment and promotes the idea that Catholics hate the *people* who commit those sins, which is not true.

          Back in the day, there were venial and mortal sins, but apparently that is changed and I’m OK with that. However, if you truly believe that all sins are equal, then you must apply that belief to ALL sins, not just the ones of which you personally approve.

          • Illinidiva

            “If you are over 30, chances are your friend would have been heckled at ANY school, Catholic or not. No one is suggesting that Catholics are any less capable of sin than any other human.”

            It is my understanding that there are still issues in the school today.

            “So, the kids teasing your friend sinned, but I noticed that you did not equally accuse your friend of sinning. You are trying to make the point that all sin is equal, yet you clearly see the heckling as more sinful than homosexuality. ”

            First, my friend wasn’t having sex with anyone during high school. He just happened to be gay. Being gay is not a sin. Secondly, the Church has prioritized certain sins; it has prioritized sexual sins over other types of sins. Everyone knows that the Church is against gay marriage, but the part of the catechism where it is sinful to marginalize gay people has not been well taught to Catholics.

            “Being “against” something suggests a personal level of intolerance or judgment and promotes the idea that Catholics hate the *people* who commit those sins, which is not true. ”

            Well, many Catholics on the margins have concluded that we hate the sinner.

          • Ty

            Do the homosexual persons on the margins admit that homosexual acts are sinful and that the behaviour should therefore be avoided?

        • AugustineThomas

          I’m sorry for your pain.

          Forgive me. My feelings were hurt by what the Pope said and I’ve said a lot of stupid things these last few days.

          God bless Pope Francis, that he makes people know they belong at church with the rest of us sinners!!!!!

        • Mara319

          Ya think? The state will put those kids in their “proper place” once they’re grown up if they persist in their practice. Gays are a protected group as it is – you don’t violate them, or else. The state does not need the Catholic Church’s help in condemning people who discriminate against gays – we have laws and prohibitions that easily target people with “hate” crimes against gays, whether justly or unjustly.
          Why do you feel “excluded” in the Church? Are you gay yourself? The Church does not condemn gays. The Church condemns gay SEX ACTS.
          If you’re gay but leads a chaste life, you’re as much a Catholic as the rest of us, who are sinners but hope for forgiveness and mercy. You are not alone in pursuing a chaste life. Unmarried adults, nuns and priests, widows, widowers, divorcees and children – whether straight or gays – are also encouraged to lead a life of chastity. So don’t you feel excluded.

          • CarlDiederichs

            We spend too much time on the pelvic region and what others do sexually. The pope knows this and is correcting it. Listen, please.

          • Chesire11

            The Church does not condemn people with same sex attraction, but many member of the Church do. I think that is what Illinidiva was referring to.

          • Illinidiva

            First, I’m not gay myself but I feel for gay people on account of my friend and others who I have heard of.

            And there is a difference between those that you describe and gays and this is a choice. The rest have a say in it; gay people on the other hand are born with the orientation. Quite different from a priest or a religious making an adult choice to devote their lives to God. I have a hard time with God creating people with that sort of orientation and creating quite a few and then condemning them to be the elderly person who dies alone in bed and is only found weeks later due to the smell.

            Also, the Church hasn’t shown tolerance to gay people. When you call someone “intrinsically disordered” or linking homosexuality to child sexual abuse, then you really aren’t showing mercy or tolerance.

  • http://www.facebook.com/chris.field.165 Chris Field

    Father Longenecker, you may be describing a personal “Catch-22″ when you suggest that Francis’ message of ” non-judgementalism ” may be misinterpreted by “post-Christian Europe” and “liberal-America”….. Personally, I believe that Pope Francis is here to say that he no longer accepts such labels as irreversible.

    He is expanding the target market, if you will, of Catholicism. He wants to deliver a message – but he wants to deliver the complete package – and that package includes Christ’s compassion – as well a God’s monopoly on judgement.

    He is welcoming them into the flock, if they chose to come. Welcoming them in to listen to the TRUE and complete message of the Church.

    I would venture to suggest that your own message of ” But you need to sincerely seek him and turn from your sin” is just as prone misinterpretation – to those you classify as “liberal America” or “post-Christian Europe” – because from the outside looking in those folks only see a condemning organization of old men.

    Admittedly, there needs to be a stick to go with the carrot – but I believe the Pope’s message to HIS OWN CHURCH is that if you continue to begin the conversion process with the stick, you will continue to not get these people in the door, to hear the full message of God’s love, Christs compassion and the goodness of the Church- as well ALL OF OUR need of repentence.

    • Athelstane

      Hello Chris,

      There’s some truth to what you say, and I’m sure that’s part of his strategy.

      The difficulty, however, is what we’re seeing all around us. Whatever he’s trying to say, what’s being received through the filters here in the secular West is changing Christ’s admonition of the woman caught in adultery from “I do not judge you. Go and sin no more” to “I do not judge you. Go, and follow your bliss.”

      And the difficulty for those of us using this as a “teachable moment,” to explain that the Pope isn’t really saying that, puts us at risk for being accused of seeming more Catholic than the Pope, even if we’re very careful and very charitable.

      The Gospel certainly needs to be delivered as something more than just an angry scold. But there’s a balance to strike, making clear that mercy is available and given precisely because there’s sin to be merciful about. And it’s increasingly clear that Francis is struggling with that balance, especially in communicating to western audiences of the sort that Fr. Longenecker is talking about.

    • Marianne Dobbs

      I can’t think of a single person of my acquaintance who hasn’t heard (at least at some point in their lives) that God loves us. That is not the question for which most people seek an answer. The question they want answered is, “Why do I need God?”. The answer, of course, is because we are sinners (gasp!). Thus sin MUST be a primary talking point in any attempt at conversion. The sheep are lost because the Church is giving them no reason to stay or return.

      I attempted to return to the Church recently. Inside the building, instead of a crucifix, there was a statue of Jesus waving. No confessionals were visible. The Tabernacle was off in an alcove to the side of the pews, readily accessible to children who wandered away from their parents during the service. No Stations of the Cross, no statues of the saints. Even Mother Mary was absent. In the Sunday bulletin, there was a link (posted by the Pastor) to a George Carlon stand up routine on Youtube which contained horrifically foul language. The Pastor’s article did not include any warnings, rather he was agreeing with and promoting Carlon’s opinion!

      Unfortunately, this is not just happening in my local parish. My Catholic relatives concur that the same situation, to varying degrees, is prevalent across the nation.

      Catholics, at least in America, have been “dummying down” the reality of sin and the holiness of the sacraments for decades in an attempt to bring in the flock, to no avail. Churches are closing and I suspect it’s because the faithful are not receiving the spiritual guidance they need.

      While it’s the fulfillment of the Gospel to share the message of God’s love, the Church is currently ill prepared to further guide the people that respond.

  • I am not Spartacus

    +++++++++++++++ begin quotes ++++++++++++

    A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’

    “Vatican II produced a renewal movement that simply comes from the same Gospel. Its fruits are enormous. Just recall the liturgy. The work of liturgical reform has been a service to the people as a re-reading of the Gospel from a concrete historical situation. Yes, there are hermeneutics of continuity and discontinuity, but one thing is clear: the dynamic of reading the Gospel, actualizing its message for today—which was typical of Vatican II—is absolutely irreversible

    If the Christian is a restorationist, a legalist, if he wants everything clear and safe, then he will find nothing. Tradition and memory of the past must help us to have the courage to open up new areas to God. Those who today always look for disciplinarian solutions, those who long for an exaggerated doctrinal ‘security,’ those who stubbornly try to recover a past that no longer exists­—they have a static and inward-directed view of things. In this way, faith becomes an ideology among other ideologies. I have a dogmatic certainty: God is in every person’s life

    +++++++++++++++ end quotes ++++++++++++

    The Vicar of Christ is ostentatiously extending his hands of welcome to sodomites while he back-hands traditionalists and repeatedly tells them he has no time for them or patience with them.

    He has rhetorically excommunicated us because we hold fast to Tradition and for this Vicar of Christ, Tradition is a legalism of the past.

    His disparagement of a pellucid Faith capable of being understood by even the young (Catechism of Council of Trent, Catechism of Pope Saint Pius X, Baltimore Catechism, The Penny Catechism etc etc ) is disturbing in the extreme.

    This interview is an extended confession of a radical but it comes with neither contrition or purpose of amendment, rather, it lays out the insanely evil program for his Papacy.

    • Athelstane

      Hello IANS,

      …it lays out the insanely evil program for his Papacy.

      Whoa, pardner. Really. Take a deep breath. Go pray.

      I’m not going to lie: I’m struggling to like this pontiff. His comments are at risk for causing as much harm as good. I find his instincts unfortunate in some respects, and not just on liturgy. I fear he’s far too optimistic about the situation of the Church (certainly more so than Benedict).

      But “insanely evil?” Let’s exercise some charity. He may be a problematic pontiff in some respects. Well, we’re not required to like the Pope (more than a few great saints through the ages have found popes they didn’t care for), but we are required to be obedient to him, at least in any lawful directive.

      • Mara319

        Thanks, Athelstane. Exactly how I feel.
        “We’re not required to like the Pope (more than a few great saints through the ages have found popes they did care for), but we are required to be obedient to him, at least in any lawful directive.”
        Worth repeating word for word.
        Thanks again and God bless.

      • I am not Spartacus

        Dear Athelstane. You are right. What I wrote in anger I now repudiate and take back in recollection and I apologise to the Pope and to all whom I offended.

    • BM

      There is a certain modernist strand in the Pope’s remarks that I find unsettling as well. Louie Verrecchio has picked up on it (in his final point).

  • tobity

    Good stuff Fr. Dwight.

  • AugustineThomas

    By the way, thanks for putting me on moderation Father, I deserved it.

    I pray your censorship has the desired effect!

    Please say a blessing for me Father, that I learn to speak in love and forget all my hate, through the saving grace of Christ our Lord. (My real name is Jacob Richard Ford.)

  • Anne

    At the end of the day, it is what people and Priests are doing on the ground that matters. If Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI had been listened to and his words acted upon the Church would be in a better state than it is now. I think many Bishops and Cardinals turned their backs on him. The Church is in dire straits in many parts of the world and to be honest we need desperately to get back to basics, Catechesis, Prayer, more frequent use of the Sacrament of Confession, study and renewal of our Liturgy. The amount of liturgical abuses is phenomenal. Even at Bishops ordinations the teachings of the Church on the Holy Mass are ignored. In Ireland we saw liturgical dancing at one ordination and lay extraordinary ministers used to distribute Holy Communion at another one, in the presence of a large group of Priests and Bishops. There is a big mess on the ground and we need proper and coherent leadership to clean it up. Otherwise it makes life very difficult for lay catechists to go and teach the laity what is right according to Church teaching but then to find Bishops who go against that very same teaching….


    Seems to me we already have ‘content’ and any Catholic, active or potential returnees know the content.

  • A J MacDonald Jr

    Francis is a modernist, and a universalist. God’s mercy and grace redeems everyone… repentance, faith, and holiness not required.

  • James E-Chip Stone

    My concerns, Fr Longnecker, are that we, the faithful, can lose our peace of soul over this. Discussions are good, helpful, and necessary. But it is damaging to the good of the Church at large when we start attacking the Pope or hinting in that directions — I’m sure that’s not where you are going, but you’d agree that it can go in that direction.

    This is not to say that I object to your post. Just sharing my worries too. What concerns me are discussions like these, where they might be headed, even if the discussion seem inevitable. It would be harder to believe that some of the Pope’s recent statements would not provoke this sort of discussion. And of course, everyone has the right to express their opinion on this.

    I’m trying not to be naive about all of this. In fact, I believe I’m quite skeptical — skeptical of the skepticism, that is. Not directing this at anyone in particular, so no offense, but there’s a lot of knee-jerking going on right now.

    Let’s continue to be faithful to Christ, the Church and her teaching, AND the Pope, and build each other up as a members of this Mystical Body. Peace.

  • rodlarocque1931

    This pope is a menace to the Church.
    I pray that God converts him back to Catholicism or gives us a new pope.
    This is a really scary time to be a traditon-loving Catholic.

  • TribeofLiberty

    You’ve put the Pope’s remarks into a cultural context. Thank you for this.

  • Li Min

    This is the best article I have read on this situation. Defense of the Faith is very serious right now in America and Europe, where Christians are being jailed, discriminated against, and sued by those who are against Christian morals or beliefs. They are losing their businesses or livelihood over these lawsuits and we are hoping the Church will acknowledge this attack on the freedom of religion.

  • Li Min

    Did anyone notice Fr.’s Facebook page is gone? did Facebook take it down or did he? I was hoping to follow his articles on Facebook, to share with friends, but I guess it’s gone!

  • TapestryGarden

    Fabulous interpretation. As a convert I am stunned at how little CATHOLICS know about their faith, much less those outside of the Church. The media hears what it wants and forgets the rest, even it it’s the “go and sin no more” phrase. I applaud Pope Francis for his ability to inspire people to “come and see….” what the Church is about. Hopefully his statements which are NOT radical changes will enlighten those who are often wrong but never in doubt about why they hate the Church. They will think of this as something new and different although it is not. And I hope those with their erroneous impressions will take the time to see the amazing beauty, logic and compassion in the Church’s teaching.

  • Anita Lay

    The principal mission of The True Church is to lead souls to Heaven. And that divine mission often involves, what good parents know to be, something called “tough love.”

    Love homosexuals — yes. Hate and condemn the lifestyle — yes. I hope I’m wrong, but Pope Francis seems to be the last thing the Church needs right now.

    • Mara319

      Anita, I agree. God bless you.

  • Lepanto

    Father you have ‘hit the nail on the head’, what worries me is that the Pope is apparently unable to see (I think) that his different audiences are interpreting his words in totally different ways. I find it very worrying that HH doesn’t appear to realise that both we Catholics and the world need CLARITY above all in these times.

  • uncledoodoo

    I’m a protestant. As such as I read the Pope’s letters and interviews, I can completely understand them and enthusiastically agree with them. I especially understand where he’s coming from on the premise of sin and redemption and don’t see this as an “accommodating, inclusionistic, progressive” nonsense but just the way you describe it in the first few paragraphs. What I don’t understand, and no offense to you, is the catholic trappings that you seem to insist be added back to the message. While I understand that a parade with a bunch of religious symbols and a priest that is not Jesus (the only New Testament, Biblical priest ascribed to the church), might be important to you, it is not the heart of the gospel that I feel Pope Francis is trying to convey. Again, I’m not saying you shouldn’t do what you want to do in your practice, I just don’t think you understand the bigger picture out there that the Pope does.

    • blessedx4inTX

      I do not believe that the author is insisting that Catholic “trappings” be added back to the message. Rather he is commenting on the sad state of the Catholic Church in the West, and the lack of catechisis among Catholics themselves. (meaning…we don’t know what our faith teaches) We are decidedly more secularized in America, and unfortunately the faith has not been taught as it should. There is much confusion about what the Church really teaches, and the author is referring to this…a concern about correcting misunderstandings. Only then can the Holy Father’s words be understood in context. Blessings to you~

  • Jean Spearing

    This is a very smart summary of the pope’s words and how it will be received by different cultures. But in my view, the impact of his words will reverberate much further than you indicate. In these very same cultures that lack basic understanding of Catholic teaching, the Catholics find themselves more and more marginalized and pushed to accept ideologies we cannot accept. Worse yet, we are licking the wounds of our lost battles, where spouses and children have been lost to the gay lifestyle, daughters have aborted their babies, spouses contracept without our consent, our businesses are forced to close if we do not cater gay weddings, strangers push ideologies on our children with government backing, or we are forced to pay for contraception and abortion against our will. How on earth the debate over this is reduced to small-mindedness is beyond me.

  • Jean Spearing

    It just occurred to me that I think the whole problem here is that the Pope doesn’t really understand the enemy, and I am not speaking of Satan which I am sure he understands just fine. I mean to say that the Pope does not seem to grasp how his words will be misconstrued by anyone and everyone that wants to continue to do wrong, and that this will be a huge problem for Catholics fighting on the front lines of this cultural war. That is the worry.

    • Mara319

      Thank you, Jean. I’m afraid you’re right. We must continue praying for Pope Francis.

  • Ignatius

    Fr., excuse me. But trying to extrapolate something about the Argentinian culture out of Salvadorean culture simply does not work. The “all those people down there are the same” is really more than a simplification.

  • anna

    He seems to overly concerned about how people will “take” the teachings of our Church. He is not acting in the person of Christ. Jesus did not worry about how people would take things, he was very blunt and to the point. Remember the passage about the disciples and the teaching of the Eucharist? He let them walk. Sometimes, we don’t have time to put everything in context. Sometimes we need to say “it is a sin…” and give a short reason why.

  • Paul Morphy

    An excellent analysis Fr.Longenecker. The last paragraph of your blog is the foundation stone for me.

  • Molly

    Good thing we have Bishops and priests who are to personally lead their flock and address local issues and society. Good thing the Pope knows this and trusts them.

  • hockeyCEO

    Nice, we done Fr. Longnecker

  • Francisco

    Great column! I’ve been thinking about this for a while in the very same way. I too am Catholic living in a world of non-Catholics, non-Christians and down right anti-religious people. I scratch my head sometimes at what the Pope says because it comes across to me as messages to the Catholic 3rd world and completely avoiding the dying Catholic church in the US, Canada, Europe, and Australia where baptized Catholics are simply leaving the Church, flipping off the Pope, and either becoming atheists or joining pagan religious including messing with the Occult. It also confuses me because Pope Francis has lived in places like Italy, Spain and Germany were the Catholic church are losing people left and right, not to other Christian churches like the fundamentalist here in the US but to the anti-religious secular world that thinks the Church is evil dominating institution that must be abolished and that the Pope (including Francis) is a joke.
    The Pope needs to realize that just in the US and Europe there about 700 million souls that need salvation and that they are quickly moving into a state of not believing in the any kind of sin. He needs to stop focusing only on the 300 million Hispanics in central and south America and the few Muslims that might consider converting to Christianity.

  • kathy

    Thank you, Father, now I feel alot better. I agree with your explanation and relieved with the enlightenment. Hopefully, the Holy Father will get the global picture really soon, because right now after that interview, harm was done by the liberal media’s interpretation. Yet, to tell the truth, those quotes of his can and will be interpreted

    just like you wrote. We need help, Father.

  • Mick

    Exactly! I’m troubled when the Pope reiterates “follow your conscience”. I’ve been in law enforcement for 25+ years and I’ve met a disturbing number of people you have no conscience.

    • Mara319

      LOL! How true! Thanks, Mick.

  • HermitTalker

    His Holiness is not addressing any “typical” Catholic or typical cotemporary group. Neither did Jesus who met with nit-picking, outright jealousy as well as believers who got Faith in Him not from flesh and blood but from God’s Grace as He told Peter. We have that mixture in our work places, families and local congregations and on radio and TV from various preachers as well as general media who offer us one minute reports of complex papal homilies and of other articles such as this lengthy wide-ranging Jesuit interview. Mary pondered these things in her heart, we are similarly challenged to at least read the entire article in americamagazine.i did and still working on it around the media spinners.

  • Nick Galiardo

    At first, I completely agreed with what you wrote. But, as I took some time, I began to approach it from a different angle. Although the Pope is the Vicar of Christ, and therefore a messenger for all people, he is also the leader of Catholics, and therefore it is completely understandable that he would approach/present issues from a Catholic world-view.

    He is neither desiring, nor attempting to change any fundamental principles of Church teaching, and therefore, I think it is entirely acceptable for him to alter the Church’s course from one of defensiveness, to one of compassion, since — I’d surmise — a majority of his flock (which do hold a Catholic world-view… to some degree) are in need of a sense of forgiveness, as opposed to constantly being confronted with their own weakness and mistakes (which all too often they ARE aware of).

    As the Holy Father mentioned (in the part of the interview the NYT and others chose to conveniently ignore) was that the Church’s teaching is clear and it’s important to discuss these issues… but, it’s important to also recognize that we are all sinners and therefore should approach the topics with a foundation of love, concern, and compassion for the individual (just as Christ would).

    Now, this is entirely based off the presumption that he is addressing his flock (who have the aforementioned “Catholic world-view”), which I feel is his first and foremost responsibility.

    Christ first ministered to His disciples, who He then sent out to minister to the world. It was then, that His disciples were able to bring the world to Christ. As such, I think that the Pope’s attempt to heal the despair and brokenness of those in the Church, is the first step in healing the brokenness of the world (pulling the log out of our own eye — not just recognizing it’s there — before pulling the splinter out of our neighbors eye).

    Only then, will we be able to approach the world in a genuine, compassionate and loving way which would convince them to follow Christ’s example.

    I think it’s also important to note, that in any society, change and conversion comes from a grassroots personal level. The leader establishes the course, and the people bring about the change. Very few people are going to have a conversion of heart based upon what “some guy” in Rome has to say. However, they are more likely to have a change of heart based upon what a close family member, or friend, has to say. By taking the approach the Pope has, he is very openly and publicly, telling the people that they are loved and cared for… and then from there… every day Catholics can do their job (as disciples of Christ), and fill in the details.

  • GaryLockhart

    The Holy Father needs to preface his extemporaneous remarks with “Let me be perfectly clear. God and His Church love you. However, God and His Church are not here to condone and enable your sins either implicitly or explicitly. His Church does not exist to give you a watered down relativist presentation of His teachings and counsel. If you reject that then you reject both Him and His Bride.”

  • Hopeful

    Or perhaps His Holiness means what he says, and God is once again miraculously converting His church

  • http://connecticutcatholiccorner.blogspot.com/ CT Catholic Corner

    Great write up! You are SPOT ON about Pope Francis’ message: “to post-Christian Europe, Liberal Protestant America and other developed countries is that most of the population either have no concept of sin in their lives or they deny the idea completely. Therefore Francis’ message of forgiveness, acceptance and embrace simply comes across as condoning whatever lifestyle people happen to have chosen. ”

    That is the HUGE problem here in the United States and now the confusion among “progressive Catholics” worse than ever!
    I too see what you are saying about this and had to address it myself after a bombardment of emails, comments and tweets over my first comments about “My issues with Pope Francis”:

  • Anneleisa Filla

    I am not reading the other comments, I don’t have time for 141+ comments, so maybe someone has stated this, but it seems to me that the Pope is saying:

    Proclamation in a missionary style focuses on the essentials, on the
    necessary things: this is also what fascinates and attracts more, what
    makes the heart burn, as it did for the disciples at Emmaus. We have to
    find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is
    likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance
    of the Gospel. The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple,
    profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral
    consequences then flow.

    Sounds like Greenville, SC, and everywhere in the United States, could be seen as a mission field. I believe that prayerful reading of his words will help us all.