The enigma that is Pope Francis: a few new clues

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Aug 14, 2015

Are you still trying to understand Pope Francis? Join the club.

For those of us who are struggling to understand the Holy Father’s way of thinking, Nick Miroff of the Washington Post has provided a few very useful insights. First he cited the influence of Argentina’s Juan Peron, a populist strongman who was not a conventional leftist, but certainly not a rightist—in fact, a demagogue who defied easy categorization. The New York Times and The Economist agree that Peron, who controlled Argentina during his formative years, had an important influence on Pontiff’s thinking, especially on political topics.

Unfortunately, that bit of analysis does not enable us to predict how the Pope will respond to public issues. Peron himself was unpredictable; it was always much easier to say what he opposed than to know what he endorsed. (Does that sound familiar?)

But Miroff followed up with another column arguing that Pope Francis is “neither a liberal nor a conservative. He’s an evangelist.”

Okay, but what does that mean? Miroff predicts that “partisans of the culture war” will constantly be frustrated by this Pope, because he avoids taking positions that might interfere with his primary goal, which is to encourage people to test the waters of the Catholic faith. Pope Francis has little patience for debates about who is inside, and who is outside, the Church; he wants to concentrate on bringing more people inside. Thus Miroff writes:

He will likely continue to stake out positions on major social questions -- like his remarks on divorce -- but probably to the extent that they further his goal of getting clergy to stop thinking of themselves as gatekeepers of the faith…He wants the church doors open, and for priests and parishioners to stop worrying so much about who walks through them.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: jalsardl5053 - Aug. 18, 2015 11:10 PM ET USA

    No mystery - the Pope's politics are leftist period. His involvement with the Cuba situation is as deplorable as Obama's and his acceptance of the "gift" from Evil Morales is scandalous. His science is no better: the Church now has 3 strikes and is out on that score: Copernicus, Galileo, and John Kerry. Pope John Paul - Ronald Regan; Pope Francis - Barrack Hussein Obama SIGH!! signs of the times.

  • Posted by: John J Plick - Aug. 18, 2015 10:00 AM ET USA

    I can't help but remember the last "Papal Mass" in Washington DC, which in my opinion was a socio-political disaster at the least. Known pro-aborts and advocates of same-sex marriage approached the altar..., & apparently Communion was even taken to Senator E Kennedy, no doubt because of his health status. This kind of flagrant disregard for obvious anti-Catholic stances basically sends a loud & clear message to us, the laity..., that the Church hierarchy simply doesn't care. That is not "mercy"

  • Posted by: koinonia - Aug. 16, 2015 9:44 AM ET USA

    We like to think ourselves unique to history, and our problems quite unique to the current milieu as well. But is this really the case, particularly when it comes to fundamental principles? Does the Church really need to evolve over time to retain "relevance" as many continue to argue? Is there any evidence in history that the Church has been "worrying so much about about who walks" through her doors? Is there such a thing as wisdom that transcends time? Is it possible any more to know?