Catholic Culture Liturgical Living
Catholic Culture Liturgical Living

Overinterpreting Pope Francis: please, everyone, calm down!

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Jan 09, 2014

”Is the Pope a Catholic?” That question is supposed to be a joke. But recently there has been so much overheated speculation about the Pope’s statements and intentions, David Gibson of RNS takes the question seriously, almost, in an interesting analysis column entitled Yes, the pope is still Catholic, despite what you heard.

Gibson makes several good points about the sensationalistic media coverage of this pontificate. Pope Francis has proven newsworthy, and reporters are constantly looking for more stories—the bigger the better. The Holy Father has been engaging the secular world, and has shown a preference for risk-taking approaches. He has emphasized God’s mercy, to the point where some people have wondered, foolishly, whether he intends to abolish God’s law. All good points.

But Gibson’s best point, I think, is his third:

Because of those novelties, many liberals are ecstatic and expecting more, while many conservatives are picking up on any stray signal and hyping it to show that Francis is in fact a danger to their traditional agenda and must be opposed.

Think about it: Liberal commentators claim that the Pope is planning to change Church teachings, and applaud. Then conservative commentators also say that the Holy Father intends radical changes, and they mourn. With both sides claiming that huge changes are underway, is it any surprise that folks in the middle expect changes? That secular journalists, unacquainted with the whole topic of Catholic doctrine, expect even more radical changes?

Yet to this day, all the feverish commentary, from left and right, is based on interpretation—or rather, I would argue, overinterpretation—of what Pope Francis has said. When ordinarily serious reporters question whether the Pope intends to abolish the concept of sin, it’s obvious things have gone too far. Everyone, please calm down!

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: - Jan. 10, 2014 8:20 PM ET USA

    Unfortunately, Francis poses questions such as you mention, jg. Besides being over-interpreted, he is being over-reported. I must admit to sort of tuning him out because I don't want to hear any more misleading statements. He seems to be eager to accomodate the world at large but as we all know, that has never worked and it never will. He must learn to be consistent, to not throw bones to atheists and the faithful alike.

  • Posted by: jg23753479 - Jan. 09, 2014 7:14 PM ET USA

    Speaking of a lesbian household where there was at least on child, a young girl, Francis said, “How can we proclaim Christ to a generation that is changing? We must be careful not to administer a vaccine against faith to them.” I think I understand where the pope is headed here, but I would still like to see him ANSWER the questions he often poses. Just HOW CAN we proclaim Christ to a generation that is, seemingly, changing radically for the worse at a fast pace? Personally, I haven't a clue.