What *is* Pope Francis saying to the right?

My, my. Pope Francis has been ruffling quite a few feathers recently, hasn’t he? In addition to criticizing the global economic system for worshiping the “god called money,” it appears that his interview with America magazine has “deeply confused” faithful Catholics because his remarks give the impression that he doesn’t like “right-wing” Catholics.

At least that’s what John Zmirak writes in the American Conservative. He cites no specific passages either from Francis’s interview or from the affronted faithful. For now, I’ll take him at his word. In fact, his article is worth reading in its entirety because it provides additional context to the cultural challenges the West in general and the Church in particular are confronting. I’m not sure if I agree with everyone he writes. What I appreciated, however, was the manner in which he took up his disagreement with the pontiff honestly and charitably:

When [Pope Francis] says things that make us uncomfortable, we ought to be open to the likelihood that he’s saying something true that we’ve overlooked, maybe even presenting a truth we have tried to hide from. (Think of how disquieting some of Christ’s words are in the Gospels.) If even after reflection and prayer we feel sure that he’s wrong—as popes in their personal statements and human decisions have often been wrong in the past—we ought to remember Noah, and not act like scornful sons. We ought to greet papal mistakes with solemn sadness, earnest prayer, and respectful attempts at correction. It is in that spirit that I wish to comment on Pope Francis’s recent interview.

Personally, I’m not sure if Francis is criticizing the right per se. Yes, he said that he was never a “right-winger,” but that’s within his talking about how poor a leader while in Argentina:

“In my experience as superior in the [Jesuit] Society, to be honest, I have not always behaved in that way—that is, I did not always do the necessary consultation. And this was not a good thing. My style of government as a Jesuit at the beginning had many faults. That was a difficult time for the Society: an entire generation of Jesuits had disappeared. Because of this I found myself provincial when I was still very young. I was only 36 years old. That was crazy. I had to deal with difficult situations, and I made my decisions abruptly and by myself. Yes, but I must add one thing: when I entrust something to someone, I totally trust that person. He or she must make a really big mistake before I rebuke that person. But despite this, eventually people get tired of authoritarianism.

“My authoritarian and quick manner of making decisions led me to have serious problems and to be accused of being ultraconservative. I lived a time of great interior crisis when I was in Cordova. To be sure, I have never been like Blessed Imelda [a goody-goody], but I have never been a right-winger. It was my authoritarian way of making decisions that created problems.

Zmirak places the “right-winger” comment in the appropriate context:

From what I have read, in Argentina, a swath of the folks who fought for the Latin Mass also supported the right-wing dictators down there—which means they winked at torture and murder, but their consciences proved too tender to countenance altar girls. I have met this kind of smug zealot up here in the U.S.—the guy you meet at the coffee hour who starts off with pro-life talk, then finds a way to assert that most abortionists are Jewish … and pretty soon he’s pressing on you poorly printed pamphlets that “prove” the Holocaust never happened. I used to argue with people like this, but it led nowhere. (Although I learned how to have some fun with them by “proving” that World War II was also a myth, and that all its “casualties” had really been abducted to serve as slaves in the Zionist tin mines on the Moon.)

Besides, it’s way beyond reason to expect the pontiff to like everyone he meets. Popes are people too. There’s a reason popes go to confession like any other Catholic ought to. I just can’t get too excited about a pope liking this group and not another. So long as he praises and glorifies Him, and proclaims the Gospel at all times, that’s what matters.

The most fascinating aspect of Francis is that he’s bringing an opportunity for genuine dialogue within the Church. By dialogue, I mean not only being able to speak, but also willing to listen. I have no reason to think that the Pope is not attuned to how people react to what he says. So long as the dialogue continues in the manner that Zmirak speaks, we may find ourselves in the midst of a springtime within the Church.

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