Catholic Culture Dedication
Catholic Culture Dedication

Balanced, insightful NY Times treatment of Pope Francis and his critics

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Nov 11, 2013

On consecutive days, the New York Times has provided two insightful pieces on the Catholic Church: two pieces of analysis good enough to remind us why the Times was once rightly regarded as America’s most authoritative news source.

First there was a balanced piece of analysis by reporter Laurie Goodstein, entitled Conservative U.S. Catholics Feel Left Out of the Pope’s Embrace. As I have indicated, I think that the Pope’s conservative critics are making a serious mistake, to the detriment of the Church and even to the detriment of their own cherished cause. The internet is ringing with the denunciations from self-proclaimed defenders of Catholic orthodoxy, who warn us that the Holy Father is barely short of outright heresy. Goodstein could have made a sensational story of it all; she contents herself with a sober treatment.

Then columnist Russ Douthat follows with a remarkably insightful essay on “The Francis Era.” The new Pope, Douthat argues, is trying to end “a kind of low-grade institutional civil war” within the Catholic Church, which has “ultimately left everyone a loser.” Many conservative Catholics, he argues (rightly, I think) are worried that the Pope’s outreach to non-Catholics presages a surrender to popular culture. But he reminds us that the Catholic faith need not be an either/or proposition; we are not required to choose between denouncing the culture or accepting it. The Catholic faith should shape the culture—should influence trends, not succumb to them.

Douthat’s sympathies are clearly with Pope Francis, and he hopes that the Pontiff can restore a Catholic vision that embraces both doctrinal orthodoxy and social activism. But he recognizes that the task is not an easy one, and this pontificate “may win the church a temporary wave of good publicity but ultimately just promise to sustain the long post-Vatican II civil war.” He is critical (again rightly, in my view) of a recent speech by Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga —the chairman of the Commission of Cardinals advising Pope Francis—which emphasized economic issues nearly to the exclusion of spiritual themes, and “had a political and left-wing and sometimes half-baked and conspiratorial flavor.” That speech, Douthat suggests, outlines the agenda that the conservative critics of Pope Francis fear the Pontiff might embrace.

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 See full bio.

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  • Posted by: koinonia - Nov. 11, 2013 5:37 PM ET USA

    The gospel of St. John begins: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God... But as many as received him, he gave them power to be made the sons of God, to them that believe in his name. Who are born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. We are a sophisticated, complicated lot- this cohort of contemporary adult Catholics. Nevertheless, there is starting point from which all else proceeds. And it is miraculous.