by Ethan Mack
I absolutely love Pope Francis. I know that is a popular sentiment to express right now, but I nonetheless truly mean it. Reflecting back on his first six months, I honestly don't think there could be a better man to lead the Church at this point in time. As Cardinal Timothy Dolan put it recently, “This man is batting a thousand!” I have been blessed enough to see him several times in Rome, and each time I am struck by the utter joy that radiates from the man.
Several months ago during the papal conclave, I wrote a piece concerning how frustrated I was about the secular media's constant attempt to paint the church as a political entity, with right and left wing factions vying for doctrinal control. This was published in our September issue. As they explain it, so called “right-wingers” are only concerned with liturgical purity and moral teachings, whereas so called “lift-wingers” are only concerned with helping the poor. I attempted to show (and hopefully I succeeded) that this is ultimately a false dichotomy that fails to grasp the complex nature of Catholic theology and tradition. I think what I love most about Pope Francis is that he is working to end this false dichotomy once and for all.
Since his election, the Holy Father has been recognized for his deep love and concern for the poor. He has talked extensively about the dangers of excessive free market capitalism and how it can have a negative impact on the poorest in a society. This, along with some of his off-the-cuff comments on homosexuality, has caused many to conclude that this pope is in the “left-wing” faction of the Church. They will usually illustrate this by pointing out how different he is from the “right-winger” Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. The problem with this idea is that it is simply not true.
I may be very grateful for Francis' papacy, but that does not mean I love Pope Benedict any less. Pope Benedict is, I believe, a genius who understands more about Christianity then perhaps any other living person; however, he struggled to reach certain groups of people that Francis has thus far succeeded at reaching. Francis has done nothing to dilute or soften Catholic teaching, rather he is presenting Catholic teaching as it actually is. How many people do you think knew the Catholic teaching about the dignity of all persons including homosexuals before Pope Francis came along? Probably not very many. It was widely believed that the Church “hates” homosexuals, which Pope Francis has shown has never been the case.
This is reminiscent of a quote by the late Archbishop Fulton Sheen: “There are not a hundred people in America who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions of people who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church which is, of course, quite a different thing.” The pope is trying to present the Catholic Church to the world for what it is, not what people misconceive it to be.
On the other side, the pope has been frequently attacked and criticized by many of the so called “right-wing” bloggers and commentators. They claim he is trying to undo all that Pope Emeritus Benedict did and will thus reopen the “hermeneutic of rupture.” This view is equally false. The Holy Father is not working against Benedict; he is taking the theology of Benedict and putting it into practice. He does not constantly address the “hermeneutic of rupture” because he knows that that matter has already been settled by his two immediate predecessors. I believe Pope Francis is trying to move on from the strife and disagreement that has been typical of the post-conciliar period. In other words, he thinks it's time to stop talking about how to interpret Vatican II, and instead start acting according to it.
The pope is currently presenting the fullness of Catholic Truth. He is constantly showing compassion and mercy yet without abandoning the truth found in Sacred Scriptures and Sacred Tradition, as taught by the Church Magisterium. By doing this, he is displaying how we should not accept half of the Catholic tradition, which is what this right/left dynamic calls for, but rather we should embrace the whole of what it means to be Catholic. This pontificate will ultimately work to unify the Church, and that is something everyone should be able to get behind.