The Personalist Project

Does Pope Francis make you nervous?  Here are seven worries some people suffer from and why you shouldn't let them bother you:


 He keeps using expressions like “culture of the encounter,” which make some people skeptical.  Does it sound like the naïve chatter of someone who thinks all ideologies are morally equivalent?  Isn’t the Holy Father mistaking this historical moment for a (possibly imaginary) earlier one when a guy could still find an honest liberal and hammer out some common ground with him?

Well, here’s some counter-evidence, straight from the mouth of Cardinal Bergoglio:

I am convinced that it is not our job to separate the wheat from the tares (that will be done by the angels on the day of harvest), but we need to recognize them both so that we don’t get confused and are able to defend the wheat.

--from the upcoming book Pope Francis: Keys to his Thought, by Mariano Fazio

These, as my friend Henry Dietrich pointed out, are the words of a man who knows the difference between discernment and judgment.  Forbearing to play God, even if you’re Pope, doesn’t make you a moral relativist.

Here's one very current, very practical example of what you might call the culture of the encounter: Abby Johnson’s ministry, And Then There Were None, to assist abortion workers who want to leave the industry. 

You can’t accomplish stuff like this by keeping to your own ideological echo chamber: you have to “reach out” (however saccharine that might sound) to the enemy.  Abby has found that when she does, lots of people respond.  There’s nothing naïve or utopian about it.  It sounds like something Pope Francis would like.


 Doesn’t the Holy Father put an awful lot of trust in “dialogue”?  And isn’t that a code word for “Warning: moral relativism ahead?  We rightly get nervous when politicians extol the wonders of dialogue with nuclear-armed dictators,taking the enemy's words at face value.  Is this the cloth Pope Francis is cut from?

Well, here he is again in his own words (on “gay marriage”):

Let’s not be naïve, we’re not talking about a simple political battle; it is a destructive pretension against the plan of God. We are not talking about a mere bill, but rather a machination of the Father of Lies that seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God.

So, no: different cloth altogether.


What about his economic ideas?  Here's a very clarifying article by Samuel Gregg for putting to rest anxieties about his supposed Marxist or liberation-theology sympathies.  

It is true that Pope Francis has first-hand experience with the very poor and chooses to forego personal luxuries at every turn. But that's not exactly evidence of socialist tendencies.  Rather, it gives him a certain unique authority. Capitalism’s “circle of exchange” has done a lot of good for a lot of people, but, as he pointed out  in one homily on social justice (which you can find here), not everyone “manages to be included” in that circle. And an extreme libertarian approach that washes its hands of people who fall through the cracks isn’t compatible with Catholicism.  Pope Francis certainly has no objection to the "preferential option for the poor" and the "universal destination of goods," but if you do, your beef is less with this Pope than with Catholic social doctrine. 

(Pope Francis' work ethic also lends him more credibility than most of us can claim: he reportedly sleeps five hours a night, rises at 4 a.m.  prays for a couple hours, and then gets busy.)


Is he haphazard in his approach to liturgical tradition? For this one, I refer you to this article by Alejandro Bermudez.  Pope Francis is obviously willing to consider various level of tradition secondary to the salvation of the sheep under his care—as he says here—but that doesn’t mean he pits reverent worship of God against being a good shepherd.

 He wants neither to make an idol of protocol and small-t traditions nor to throw liturgical norms carelessly aside. 


He seems like a loveable, kindhearted old man, but is he up to the job of implementing serious reform?  

How to put this?  Do you (like me) have any Latin Americans in your family?  If you do, you may have a certain insight into Papa Francisco's character.  You’ll know that someone can be charming, sociable, and able to get along with all kinds of people without being in the least soft-headed, manipulable, or short on principle.  A person can be both sweet and tough. 

If you want to see Pope Francis' other side, listen to him talking sometime about people who make their living by human trafficking, or by getting children from the slums addicted to drugs.


Doesn’t he exaggerate the importance of the environment?

Some of us suffer a knee-jerk reaction when we hear the word “environment”: we think immediately of the human-beings-are-a-cancer-on-the-face-of-the-planet crowd.  Pope Francis’ concern for the God-given command to steward the earth makes him a very different species of “environmentalist.”  In an EWTN interview six months before becoming Pope, he showed plenty of clarity on the distinction, for example, betwen the needs of people and those of animals: he mentioned the scandal of what we spend on pets when there are hungry children in the world.  He has no sympathy for the idea that the unborn or the destitute or the sick or the elderly or the handicapped are superfluous.  As in the other categories of his thought, he's not simple-minded or naive.     


No, I only have six.  I don’t have the heart to dig up one more stereotype about this man. You'll have to think up your own.  I'm off to translate some more of his addresses so that more people can listen to him instead of me.

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