Francis Fatigue

I am suffering from Francis Fatigue.

The pope has alluded to the possibility on several occasions that he might just follow Benedict XVI into retirement, although I’ll speculate he won’t do so as long as Benedict is alive. We don’t need any “three popes walked into a bar” jokes. But I wouldn’t mind seeing Francis ride off into the sunset in that 1984 Renault he likes so much.

Francis wants priests to have “the smell of sheep.” I worked on a farm in high school, so I know the smell of sheep. It’s unpleasant. Of course, the Holy Father wasn’t really referring to Ovis aries. He was suggesting that priests should govern themselves like the liberal worker-priests of Central and South America, so as not to be – as he recently emphasized – “bothered” by the cries of the poor. Rather to cry with them. Fine.

I don’t know about charitable giving in Argentina, but I wonder if the pope is aware that in America individual compassion towards the poor is actually more common among conservatives than liberals. The Chronicle of Philanthropy points out:

Overall, the states in which people gave the highest percentage of their adjusted gross incomes were also states that voted for Romney, while states in which people gave the lowest percentage of their adjusted gross income went for Obama. The top 17 states for rate of giving all went for Romney. [Emphasis added]

The trend in Catholicism under Francis seems towards a marriage between the Church and Caesar, and many liberals are fine with that. Without wandering into political swamps, there are effective approaches to ameliorating poverty by governments, although government is never, per se, virtuous. And it’s hardly a Christian virtue to pay taxes and leave it at that.

I’ve worked for Caesar, and he stinks worse than the sheep.

The reason conservatives are more charitable is they are more religious. This raises a particular irony. Pope Francis has lately made common cause with atheist and agnostic liberals – on climatology and poverty relief – more than with the people who are actually doing research on ways to minimize Man’s impact on the environment or to uplift the poor. Not to mention those who are seeking to protect the lives of the unborn.

wax_Franciscus_in_Musée_Grévin
Wax figure of Pope Francis [MuséeGrévin, Paris]

To my mind, the pope’s approach is uncomfortably close to the one taken by certain charities that spend most of their assets on “raising awareness” and on internal overhead, but don’t actually give much money to the needy.

Caesar meanwhile is ever more intolerant of the Christian challenge to secular authority, which is why it’s all but guaranteed that at some point the State will rule that the Christian objections to, for instance, same-sex “marriage” are intolerable.

Then there are Francis’ comments about the invalidity of most Catholic marriages. If he means that many people don’t fully understand the sacramental character of the nuptial union when they marry, he is simply stating the obvious.

In 2014 Cardinal Walter Kasper said that, in a conversation he had with the pope ahead of the first Synod on the Family, Pope Francis said exactly the same thing, which makes ludicrous the Vatican’s amendment of the pope’s remarks the other day – changing “great majority” (the words Francis actually used) to the more anodyne “a portion.” This was reminiscent of an old TASS press release. (For those who’ve forgotten or are too young to know, TASS was the press office of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.)

The sacrament of marriage (like baptism, holy orders, and the others) is valid when the rite is properly performed, and it’s ridiculous to deduce from the frequency of divorce that “the great majority of Catholic marriages are null.” Despite the Vatican’s subsequent “correction” of the pope’s remarks, the implication is clear: that the objective validity of the sacrament depends upon the subjective disposition of the one receiving it. But this has never been the Church’s understanding.

Being married is different from being single, and whereas we may learn a lot about marriage from observing our parents, the fact remains that when “a man leaves his mother and father and [is] joined to his wife” the bride and groom begin a journey wholly new. Full understanding of that journey comes only with time.

And speaking of Catholic couples living together without the sacrament of marriage, Francis said:

I’ve seen a lot of fidelity in these cohabitations, and I am sure that this is a real marriage, they have the grace of a real marriage because of their fidelity.

I understand “love the sinner,” but the pope seems engaged in a Chaplinesque skidding on one foot towards the precipice of approving the sin. He complains of invalidity arising from ignorance and then seems to double down on the obliviousness underpinning the sins.

I’m tired of this. It’s confusing. I wish Benedict XVI were still pope.

It’s clear the papacy is meant to be a job completed only upon the death of a pope. The pace of travel set by St. John Paul II is not a requirement. It is also not a requirement that a pope craft dozens upon dozens of encyclicals. John Paul II wrote just fourteen in twenty-seven years. Paul VI wrote seven in fifteen years. But consider the impact of Populorum Progessio or Humanae Vitae, Centesimus Annus or Evangelium Vitae.

Above all, a pope’s responsibility – arguably among the greatest on earth – is to be the shepherd of the world’s 1.27-billion Catholics. All his acts and utterances are lessons for the People of God; they are examples.

I’ve come to believe that Benedict XVI failed us; that he abandoned us. In the process, he may have redefined the papacy. About that, we can only wait and watch.

Brad Miner

Brad Miner

Brad Miner is senior editor of The Catholic Thing, senior fellow of the Faith & Reason Institute, and a board member of Aid to the Church In Need USA. He is a former Literary Editor of National Review. His new book, Sons of St. Patrick, written with George J. Marlin, is now on sale. The Compleat Gentleman, is available on audio and as an iPhone app.



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