When it comes to Pope Francis, is it time to turn the corner?

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Nov 22, 2016

CatholicCulture.org has tried to be both accurate and forthright in reporting and commenting on the words and actions of Pope Francis. We have tried to treat Francis as sons; to give Francis the benefit of every doubt; to recognize the complexity of the issues he addresses; to acknowledge the possibility of differences among Catholics of good will; and to interpret his remarks, ideas and initiatives in the best possible light. But we have also been forced to admit the Pope’s shortcomings, and in particular the confusion he causes when the faithful compare what the Church has always asked of them with what Pope Francis asks of them.

This has been a source of pain for many deeply-committed and well-informed Catholics. Moreover, the entire problem has been exacerbated by Pope Francis’ unfortunate tendency to dismiss his critics—or even merely those who ask for clarifications—as “rigid”, “nasty”, and suffering from “psychological problems”.

I do not intend to recap all of the unfortunate controversies. Suffice it to say here that it is not “proselytism” to want to bring non-Catholic Christians into the Church so that they can enjoy the full range of God’s gifts for our salvation; and it is not “rigid” or “legalistic” to affirm, as we say to God in the Act of Faith, that we believe “all the truths which the holy Catholic Church teaches, because you have revealed them, who can neither deceive nor be deceived.”

Contrary to what Pope Francis often implies, Catholic teaching on faith and morals is not a matter of “laws” or “rules” but of the conformity of the mind with reality, which is the definition of truth. When Pope Francis calls names, therefore, we can barely restrain ourselves from deploying the famous defensive strategy most of us used as children. I mean the little poem that begins “I’m rubber and you’re glue.”

Unfortunately, at a certain point, our serious concern about Pope Francis can become a preoccupation—an unhealthy preoccupation. We can become so tied in knots that we feel as if we cannot get on with our lives, and especially with what God calls us personally to do, until the “Francis problem” is settled. But such a preoccupation serves no good purpose. In fact, it is a dreadful temptation. Satan desires nothing more than for us to become so engrossed by what we frequently perceive as the Pope’s recklessness that we forget our own vocations, our own Catholic mission, our own apostolates.

The danger of Catholic paralysis

Worrying about the daily confusion and sorrow Pope Francis introduces into our lives can impede us from working on our first priority—which is living our Catholic life in Christ as fully as we possibly can. With only exceedingly rare exceptions, we are in no position to offer correction to the Holy Father. Therefore, it will do us little good to engage in endless arguments over what is wrong, whose fault it is, and how the problems posed by the current papacy might be resolved. And not only will this do us no good, but it can be a significant source of scandal to others, most of whom will have little or no awareness of the issues at stake.

I’d like to suggest that it is time to turn the corner on Pope Francis. Most of us have no cards to play in the game of improving the papacy. But we do have our own callings, our own God-given talents, our own opportunities to engage in the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, to teach the truth and to foster the good. When we can use something Pope Francis has said or done in our own Catholic service, then we should—all the better! But when we cannot take our inspiration from Pope Francis, we can still reference Our Lord and the Church He founded. We do not need to come up against Francis and grind to a halt. That’s what I mean about turning the corner.

CatholicCulture.org will neither stop reporting the news nor cease to analyze key issues. But going forward, I strongly suspect we must all focus more on the good to be done than on the obstacles that make it more difficult to do. Insofar as Pope Francis preoccupies us, he has become a distraction. Therefore, we must refocus our own energies. We will find that we can do this without any danger of disobedience, since neither evil nor falsehood will ever be imposed on us by the Magisterium—and very few of us take our assignments directly from the Pope. If we are prudent, all of us can get on with our particular Catholic missions, however God calls us to serve, with no need to cast aspersions on anyone.

I admit that there is no way to hide from these problems, and we should want to keep informed. The point here is that we should be able to take them in stride without losing our serenity. There is far, far more to the life of the Church than can be hindered or helped by any one person, even if that person is the Pope. There are so many ways we can serve Christ, so many ways we can witness to His goodness and love, so many possibilities to which the only obstacles are in our own hearts. We need to pray; we need to discern God’s will; and we need to act.

Our Lord warned that no one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God (Lk 9:62), yet It seems to me that a paralytic preoccupation with Pope Francis is a kind of looking back. I believe this is something we must consider with the greatest possible care. In the battle between good and evil, when our own preoccupations prevent us from moving forward, then we really are looking back. And when this happens, it is not Christ who wins.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Nov. 28, 2016 7:45 AM ET USA

    To bkmajer3729, I view this forum, among other things, as a place to give voice to the voiceless, those unable to speak for themselves, either because of age, lack of intellectual formation, or of insufficient time to study the faith as it was handed down to us from Christ and the Apostles. When anyone, pope included, violates the bounds of charity, I consider it my duty to call him out on this failure. In the Marine Corps we were trained to defend the weaker; my students are among the weaker.

  • Posted by: jlw5094538 - Nov. 27, 2016 1:51 PM ET USA

    I wrote to my Bishop, to the Diocese Family Life Director, to the Diocesan DRE, and to my own pastor, sincerely asking exactly what I'm to teach about this as a member of our parish RCIA teaching team. Result: No response from Bp and FLD, short polite note from the DRE, and a long heart-felt discussion with my pastor, bless him. Every one of us should present the "Five Dubia" (or Dr. Joseph Shaw's 19 points), in some form, to our official teachers. Every one of them owe us a YES or a NO. AMDG

  • Posted by: steve.grist2587 - Nov. 27, 2016 12:27 PM ET USA

    I appreciate your thoughts and agree that whenever our Holy Father offers confusing rhetoric, it is a call to prayer. Prayer not only for our Pontiff, but also for those many souls who are seeking clarity in a fallen world.

  • Posted by: lak321 - Nov. 27, 2016 5:12 AM ET USA

    Amen! Thank you.

  • Posted by: bkmajer3729 - Nov. 25, 2016 8:31 PM ET USA

    "...Line in the sand, ...among those condemned, ...revolution..on-going". Really? Is this what Francis is saying? Please re-read Dr. Mirus's piece. Not saying the reaction is wrong - a reaction is a reaction. This concern is about the faithful building up the Kingdom. Yes, there is controversy but there is always controversy. This is not a political debate. Francis's words have made us think and hopefully pray. What heresy has Francis actually committed; doctrine actually changed?

  • Posted by: spledant7672 - Nov. 24, 2016 2:35 PM ET USA

    A reflective exhortation evidently borne of prayer. Thank you.

  • Posted by: AgnesDay - Nov. 23, 2016 12:32 PM ET USA

    What St. John Paul and Pope Benedict did was inoculate us against the poison of the 60's and 70's. We know what the truth is, and our job is to live the Truth, which is a far greater witness than angst. I was asked how I felt about Pope Francis, and I told my friend that I expect to outlive him. If not, I won't have a dog in the fight anyway.

  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Nov. 23, 2016 8:23 AM ET USA

    "When Pope Francis calls names..." I can tolerate being called names by clergy, other Catholics, and non-Catholics. It comes with the territory of walking into the gunsights of leftists. "Rigid," "lovers of doctrine," "embracers of rules," "psychologically insecure or worse," "black and white;" these kinds of putdowns are intended to change our behavior, to make us "suck it up." I didn't really get emotional about the name calling until he insulted my students. He crossed a line in the sand.

  • Posted by: koinonia - Nov. 22, 2016 10:13 PM ET USA

    Pope Francis truly believes he is directed by the Holy Spirit to introduce his reforms. The difficulty is that Pope Francis is all-in. He sees no dangers. He shows no reconsideration to date. No matter our personal goodwill and focus, as things stand now, many of us are already among those (to greater or lesser extent) condemned by the pope. What this means for us moving forward is a concern. But for those at the top responding to the "Pope's shortcomings," it is not going well to date.

  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Nov. 22, 2016 9:34 PM ET USA

    It's difficult to acknowledge that we may be re-entering the dark ages of the 1970s and 1980s. I remember looking for books on Catholic doctrine when I became a catechist in 1980. When traveling, I would check the Catholic bookstores in every major city to see if could find any. No luck. It was not until I received a flyer from "Catholic Treasures" in 1990 that I was able to find these books. These books, and doctrine in general, were sneered at by priests, "facilitators," DREs, booksellers...

  • Posted by: grateful1 - Nov. 22, 2016 8:25 PM ET USA

    Wise words. They will be hard to follow, but we have to try. And we have to trust that God will bless the effort.

  • Posted by: BrotherRex7235 - Nov. 22, 2016 7:46 PM ET USA

    Well said!

  • Posted by: rickt26170 - Nov. 22, 2016 6:55 PM ET USA

    I cannot disagree more. Francis will be using every tool to make his "revolution" permanent - or perhaps "ongoing" is a better term. It is hard to bishops to oppose the Pope directly. Thus it's vital for laity to hold Francis accountable for each of his bizarre statements ("proselytism" as an "evil sin" is only the latest and more will come). Francis will not serve forever but we must make clear that there is substantial support for a renewed orthodoxy. Silence will bring another Francis.

  • Posted by: jalsardl5053 - Nov. 22, 2016 6:22 PM ET USA

    A very perceptive, well written call to turn from the negative (which is all too easily dwelt on as I know) to the positive. The Church has surely seen worse Popes and survived them and it will do so again and again...