Ever since Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio became Pope Francis last March, it’s been extraordinary to hear the different interpretations of his ideas and overall message. With apologies to English playwright Robert Bolt, we’ve truly been witnessing the equivalent of a Pontiff for All Seasons.
Here are a few examples.
First, Francis has been called a “liberal reformer” by some analysts. In particular, Brent Budowsky, former aide to Democratic Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and Rep. Bill Alexander, wrote in a Nov. 26 op-ed essay in The Hill that he “can fairly be called a liberal populist reformer on matters of economics, finance, poverty, social justice, education and health care.”
Second, Francis’ Evangelli Gaudium, or “papal exhortation,” raised some eyebrows last year based on its less-than-subtle criticism of private property, global capitalism and free enterprise.
As Rachel Lu wrote in a fairly balanced piece for Crisis Magazine, “I’m a Catholic who likes free markets . Admittedly, there are a few lines in Evangelii Gaudium that are difficult for an economic conservative to take . Nevertheless, I believe we will find, if we can elevate ourselves above the fray of American politics, that Pope Francis’ message is mainly a moral one, and on that level, I am not in the least tempted to dissent.”
Third, some have interpreted Francis’ moderate comments about the homosexual community and about women as a sign that he’s going to radically change the Roman Catholic Church. To quote syndicated columnist Pat Buchanan, there is concern “His Holiness seeks to move the Catholic Church to a stance of non-belligerence, if not neutrality, in the culture war for the soul of the West.”
Fourth, Francis X. Rocca, Catholic News Service’s Rome bureau chief, added the Holy Father to a growing list of the “pope as peacemaker.” As he wrote in a Jan. 17 op-ed essay in The Wall Street Journal, Francis’ call for peace in Syria “is a role no more than a century old” and “few actions are more characteristic of the modern papacy than appeals for peace.”
I think you get the point. With the exception of Mr. Rocca’s historical piece, I would argue that some or all of these other interpretations simply don’t hold water.
Certainly, this pope studied with the Jesuits, who are known for their stern views on issues such as social justice and poverty. He has made many strong comments against capitalism and the free-market economy when he was still a cardinal. He is thought to be somewhat sympathetic to liberation theology, which has some Marxist tinges in its examination of poverty and unjust living conditions.
However, like many previous pontiffs, Francis mixes political and economic philosophy based on personal and moral positions. He’s obviously not an elected official and doesn’t run on a particular party platform. Hence, to place Francis on the proper left-right political spectrum would be rather ludicrous.
As much as liberals would also like to think that Francis is one of them, he’s not.
Take Francis’ socially conservative positions on abortion, capital punishment, premarital sex, contraception, traditional family values and female cardinals, among others. They all fall in line with proper Church teachings and, one would assume, His Holiness’s own feelings on these issues.
While Francis may be more left-leaning than recent popes on laissez-faire capitalism, his overall views follow the true nature of Catholicism and, in turn, Christianity.
As author and columnist Michael Coren succinctly wrote in his 2013 book “The Future of Catholicism”: “At the risk of sounding banal or facile, the Pope is the Pope, and the Roman Catholic Church is the Roman Catholic Church. There are major commentators and influential pundits who seem to want the Church to be anything other than Catholic and the Pope to be anything other than Papal. Sorry and all that, but the Pope cannot change certain aspects of teaching any more than he can suddenly decide that Christ is not the Messiah or God not God.”
There are many reasons to admire Pope Francis. He is a person of faith, a bridge-builder with other religions (like John Paul II and Benedict XVI before him), has genuine compassion for those less fortunate, and a figurehead the Catholic Church can be immensely proud of. That’s why he deserved to be named Time’s Person of the Year for 2013.
Just don’t make him out to be something he isn’t, or something you wish him to be. Accept him for who he is, in the same way he would surely accept you.
Michael Taube is a contributor to The Washington Times.
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