A Pope for Which Season?
(Ed. Note: Steve Elwart was raised a Roman Catholic and studied to be a Catholic priest. He had a self-described “Martin Luther moment” and later left the seminary and Catholicism. Steve went on to pursue a Ph.D. from Louisiana Baptist University and is now an ordained minister. He continues to have contacts with members of the Catholic clergy both inside and outside the Vatican and has obtained insights in the current workings of the Roman Curia.)
“More is a man of an angel’s wit and singular learning. He is a man of many excellent virtues; I know not his fellow. For where is the man (in whom is so many goodly virtues) of that gentleness, lowliness and affability and as time requires, a man of marvelous mirth and pastimes and sometime of steadfast gravity — a man for all seasons.”
— Robert Whittington, 1520
In his stage play about Thomas More (later made into a movie of the same name), Robert Bolt used “A Man for all Seasons” as a title because he believed Thomas More remained a man of principle, acting only as his conscience dictated. He remained constant in his belief and did not bend to the political winds of the time. He was constant “in all seasons.” He stayed true to his beliefs even though it cost him his life.
Please note, the following is not meant to be an apologetic for the head of the Roman Catholic Church; it is to merely serve as a guide to help explain some of the goings on during his stay in the United States. Some of the things written about the Papal visit in the United States were written out of ignorance and out of context and can serve as a disservice to the writer. We as Christians need to be discerning in our discussions. When the information we spread is inaccurate or uncharitable it can tarnish the larger message of the love and salvation brought to us by Jesus Christ.
Instead, exalt the Messiah as Lord in your lives. Always be prepared to give a defense to everyone who asks you to explain the hope you have. But do this gently and respectfully, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak evil of your good conduct in the Messiah will be ashamed of slandering you.
— 1 Peter 3:15–16 (ISV)
Now that Pope Francis has completed his tour of the United States it may be a good time to look at his visit and look at his words and his actions and put them in the context of his life, his culture and his Church.
Many try to compare the current Roman Catholic Pontiff Francis (Jorge Mario Bergoglio) to Thomas More because they feel, he too, stays true to his beliefs. A more accurate summary of his visit may be one of vacillation and trying to be all things to all people.
Pope Francis himself believes that Thomas More is a good role model for these times. (Francis has said he prays to More every day.) The times in which More lived mirror today’s time. The early 16th century saw the break up of Christianity, a loss of central authority and a fragmentation of European society. Where the 1500s saw a schism between Catholicism and Protestantism, primarily over who was the temporal head of the Church, today’s fracture is much deeper. Our war rages over the collapse of traditional virtues across the entire West — along with the rise of moral indifference and a cheerful nihilism.
As there are many parallels between the two eras, there are also parallels between the two men. While More was a religious man, he was also a prominent lawyer and judge. Pope Francis is not only the religious head of a Church, he is also the secular head of a state. It is that duality that colored the pontiff’s statements during his visit.
It is said that a key to understanding the Bible is to “think Jewish.” So too, the key to understanding Pope Francis is to “think Catholic.” Pope Francis’ style of communication differs greatly from his predecessors and this has caused confusion within the Church. Many of the things he said while in the United States were very nuanced and while some of what he said may not have made much of an impression on many people who heard his words, they sent shock waves to many others. In one example of papal persuasion, days after Francis permanently removed a German bishop for his lavish spending on a renovation project, the Atlanta archbishop apologized for building a $2.2 million mansion as his residence. He moved out of his 6,000 square foot Buckhead residence and turned it into a rectory for priests.
At almost every utterance, people took to the airwaves and blogosphere and opined on the pope’s political persuasion. One statement would label him a liberal while the next sentence in the same statement would label him an arch conservative.
Pope Francis himself is a charismatic man. A writer for the Huffington Post has written that America has a “man crush” on Pope Francis. He has been called “The People’s Pope.” When he was elected pope, he appeared before the crowd for the first time without papal finery. He chose a simple white cassock and zucchetto (cap). While traveling in the United States, he traveled in a Fiat automobile rather than the “Popemobile.” After delivering an address to a joint session of Congress, Francis went directly to the homeless at Catholic Charities — an itinerary designed to send the message that his priority, and that of the Church, is the people who live at the margins. (Francis was heeding the warning whispered to him by a Brazilian cardinal just moments after he was elected pope: “Don’t forget the poor.”)
Liberal or Conservative?
While conservative Catholics in the U.S. maintain the pope affirms traditional Church teaching on homosexuality, several Catholic gay advocacy groups claim the pope is paving a new path and hope this visit will be a step toward the Church accepting openly gay and lesbian Catholics.
One homosexual who praised him for his “who am I to judge” comment in an informal interview later wrote, “So much for my respect for Pope Francis. He’s just lost a lot of respect here in the USA,” when the Vatican confirmed he met with Kentucky County Clerk Kim Davis. Davis was jailed in early September for refusing to sign the marriage license of a homosexual couple who wished to have their civil marriage certified by the state of Kentucky. (Davis and her husband had come to Washington for another purpose — Mrs. Davis was to receive a “Cost of Discipleship” award on Sept. 25 from The Family Research Council.)
Even in this case, one has to go beyond the sound bite to get the true flavor of the story. If one reads the entire interview from an informal news conference on the papal flight returning from Buenos Aires, translated into English at Zenit.org, Francis was speaking of those with a homosexual orientation, and not approving of any behavior:
A gay person who is seeking God, who is of good will—well, who am I to judge him? The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this in such a beautiful way, it says, Wait a bit, as is said and says: “these persons must not be marginalized because of this; they must be integrated in society.” The problem isn’t having this tendency, no. We must be brothers, because this is one, but there are others, others. The problem is the lobbying of this tendency…
With Kim Davis, the meeting needs to be taken with a grain of salt as well. The Davis meeting was between two people with only Mrs. Davis’ version of the meeting being publicized. While the Vatican has since distanced the pope from the meeting, given the pope’s repeated statements on religious freedom, his comments to Mrs. Davis, “Stay strong!” and “Thank you for your courage,” may have been meant more along those lines than alluding to her stance on same-sex marriage, a theme he avoided during the other parts of his trip.
John Gehring, Catholic program director at Faith in Public Life, a liberal advocacy group, said Francis’ intent was not to escalate America’s culture wars but to illustrate the contradictions within them.
Part of the Francis effect is making the left and the right a little bit uncomfortable, and, mission accomplished. I think Pope Francis affirms religious liberty, and he rejects the culture wars. That’s something we need to grapple with.
Either way, neither the ad hoc interview nor the meeting with Mrs. Davis can define the pontiff’s position on homosexual marriage.
Is He Godless?
On Pope Francis’ second day in the United States, he addressed a joint session of Congress. Much has been made of him not mentioning Jesus’ name during his hourlong address. Nor did he invoke Christ’s name when speaking at a White House reception. While it is incomprehensible to many that the man who is called the Vicar of Christ would not invoke His name, the Roman pontiff also serves another role. He is also a Head of State. (He was introduced to Congress formally as “the Pope of the Holy See.”) Those in the Catholic Church would also say that the main message he wanted to convey was one of religious freedom. The argument goes that if he would have invoked Christ’s name, it would have diluted his main message and alienated non-Christians.
Given all the above, Francis still claims to be a follower of Jesus Christ and there was a huge missed opportunity to invoke Jesus name, head of state of not. As Paul said:
And whatever you do, whether by speech or action, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
— Colossians 3:17 (ISV)
Is He Even Christian?
The Internet exploded when Francis spoke at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York. In his homily, he made the statement “Jesus Christ and his life, … ended in failure, the failure of the cross.” His comments called into question whether he even believed in the divinity of Jesus Himself. Many of those that traffic in professional outrage left out part of the quote. The pope’s comments, in context, reads:
Ours is to plant the seeds: God sees to the fruits of our labors. And if at times our efforts and works seem to fail and produce no fruit, we need to remember that we are followers of Jesus and his life, humanly speaking, ended in failure, the failure of the cross.
Even some of those that left in the critical phrase “humanly speaking” missed the point. John Loeffler in his Oct.3 “Steel on Steel” broadcast called this “theological sniping.”
What Francis was saying was during the time of Jesus, people expected the Messiah to lead a triumphant rebellion against the Romans and reign as a Davidic king. Instead, the Romans killed him, and they did so in a particularly painful and humiliating way. From the perspective of most people of the day, based on their expectations of what the Messiah would do, he looked like a failed political revolutionary.
We know, however, as Chuck Missler often says, “The death of Jesus Christ was not a tragedy; it was an achievement.”
The pope’s use of the phrase, “humanly speaking” told his audience that the pope is setting up precisely this kind of contrast between the human and the divine perspective.
Is He a Communist?
The pope spoke a lot about “economic justice” while he was in the United States. His comments made many conservatives in the United States very uncomfortable. Francis’ remarks triggered a debate about his political leanings. His U.S. speeches, combined with statements made in South America have led right wing pundits to place him politically somewhere between a neo-socialist to an outright Marxist.
In the encyclical the pertinent section is “The economy and the distribution of income.” In it, he makes statements, such as, “Inequality is the root of social ills,” and “We can no longer trust in the unseen forces and the invisible hand of the market.” These statements harken back to the socialistic slogans of the liberation theology, developed mainly by Latin American Roman Catholics in the 1970s. It emphasized liberation from social, political, and economic oppression as an anticipation of ultimate salvation. It has rightly been called Christianized Marxism.
The thrust of what he was saying was that we are living in a global economy and economic decisions now affect the entire world. People who know the pope have voiced his concerns for the poor such as the people that work for pennies a day making garments and electronic components in places such as China and Thailand for export for Western nations. It is that perspective Francis had when authorizing the letter.
He is also a product of his times. From 1976 to 1983 Francis’ home country of Argentina was in the grip of the military dictator Col. Jorge Rafael Videla. This was a man responsible for the torture, murder and disappearance of thousands of political opponents and other political opponents. He also dispensed favors and government contracts to businesses and political cronies who grew rich at the expense of the vast majority of the Argentine population. What the then Fr. Bergoglio experienced was not capitalism, but “crony capitalism” and fascism.
In one area the Roman pontiff broke new theological ground was in climate change. In remarks to the largest gathering of world leaders in U.N. history — close to 200 prime ministers, presidents and potentates, Pope Francis blamed environmental degradation on “a selfish and boundless thirst for power and material prosperity” that causes untold suffering for the poor who “are cast off by society.” This address follows his 180-page encyclical he wrote on the subject “Laudato Si’” (On Care for Our Common Home). Among other issues was a moral call for action for phasing out fossil fuels.
His comments, a repeat of what he said the previous day at the White House admonished against:
… a selfish and boundless thirst for power and material prosperity [which] leads both to the misuse of available natural resources and to the exclusion of the weak and disadvantaged.
Francis called on the world’s rich nations to pay their “grave social debt” to the poor and take concrete steps on climate change, saying failure to do so presents an undeniable risk to a “common home” that is resembling a “pile of filth.”
While the pope’s comments and papal letter may have been birthed from the best of intentions, there are enough wide openings that have been inserted into them by those pushing for global control over climate change to the benefit of their scheme.
One needs to remember that these papal encyclicals are not written by the pope himself, but by a team of writers, many of them with their own agendas. They may reflect the pope’s overall intent, but other agendas may hide in the details of the letter.
Former Vatican observer and child rights attorney Elizabeth Yore stated she was “shocked at the leftist number of experts [the Curia] brought in to the Pontifical Academy,” citing population control advocates Jeffrey Sachs and Hans J. Schnellnhuber, who helped co-author the Vatican’s April 2015 climate change encyclical.
This begs the question of whether the pope is being used for a larger agenda of which he may not be aware.
A Danger to Avoid
There are many things in the pope’s theology of which to be critical. The errors in the doctrines of transubstantiation, sacraments, conditional salvation by works, Mary’s place in the Church, prayer to saints, etc. are all deep and significant. We need to be discerning when critiquing the words and actions of others, be it laymen or religious leaders.
We all have the obligation to reach out to Roman Catholics. We should love our neighbors of whatever faith they hold. We should befriend them and spend time with them. By doing so, we earn the right to lovingly critique their views.
When we critique them, however, we need to be accurate in our criticism and do so in a spirit of love without resulting to ad hominum arguments.
- Pope Francis: the Fifteen Diseases of the Curia
— Vatican Insider
- Transcript: Pope Francis’ Speech to Congress
— The Washington Post
- Pope Francis Visit 2015
– FROM: KHouse.Org