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Pope Francis & Two Catholic Tribes At War

Ross Douthat, who is a Catholic, explores the deep divide within American Catholicism, and wonders if Pope Francis is exacerbating it, or provides a way to overcome it (or at least move past it). Excerpt:

But at the same time I will own up to sometimes being one of those doubtful conservatives, who worries about some of the pope’s choices even as I welcome others. Some of my doubts are probably rooted in what John Allen, the indefatigable Vatican correspondent, described as a kind of “older son” problem, after the dutiful firstborn sibling in the New Testament who resented the effusive greeting that his returning prodigal brother received. It isn’t a perfectly analogy, but it will serve, in the sense that it really can be hard for those of us who admired the previous pope, and tried to be defenders of the faith amid the bleakest moments of the sex-abuse crisis, to watch the love affair between the press and Francis, and see his words and deeds covered as though their Christian spirit was something that he alone had invented, something entirely absent from the Petrine office until now. When the internet went gagarecently over the photos of Francis with a little boy who had wandered on to the altar, for instance, it was easy enough to imagine the kind of off-color jokes that would have greeted the same images under the last pope, and to resent, on behalf of the much-misunderstood Benedict, the difference between the coverage then and now ….

This is a human reaction, but not a wise or Christian one. It is no small thing to have people looking anew at Catholicism after so many years of scandal-induced skepticism, no minor achievement to have the media fascinated by the kind of living iconography that Francis has created in just a short period as pope. And there’s no good to come from brooding on the slights and unfairnesses of the past if that means ignoring the potential graces of the present moment.

But I would still stress that “potential,” because for the moment I think conservatives do have legitimate reasons to be uncertain whether the new thing that Francis is aiming at will ultimately be a synthesis and a breakthrough for the church, or whether what we’re seeing is just the pendulum swinging back toward the progressive style in Catholic theology, in ways that may win the church a temporary wave of good publicity but ultimately just promise to sustain the long post-Vatican II civil war.

Douthat cites Cardinal Maradiaga’s speech as a troubling sign that the Church isn’t moving beyond its internal culture war, but only embracing and institutionalizing a conventional progressive Catholic stance. Francis skeptic Steve Skojec stands up for himself against lay Catholic critics, and speaks to the way reaction to the new pope is tearing up the ranks of conservative Catholics:

In the comment boxes here over the last few days, one concern caught my attention. Dale Price wrote:

As to unity…well, that’s the problem. The most visible fruit of the pontificate that I have personally witnessed is exceptionally bitter: watching good and intelligent Catholics who genuinely love the Church savagely turn on each other. That has been painful, and has left me speechless.

This division is real, and it is causing huge rifts. Far from reasoned discussion, or the presumption that Catholics concerned with the effect the pope is having on the Church come by it out of honest love for the Church, they seem instead convinced that we act out of malice. I have avoided sparring with them almost entirely. I don’t see what good will come of it.


about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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