ROME, October 10, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Pope Francis has the heart of a liberal, and I’m not speaking here of "liberal" in the pejorative sense, but in the positive sense - a generous and child-like heart.  With this heart and his mandate to care for souls, Pope Francis can perform miracles, even the miracle of halting the downward spiral of the Catholic Church in the West.  It will take radical action to achieve that miracle, and it is just such a heart that is needed to take such radical action. 

In addition to having the heart for action, realistic perception is required, to see the needs of the Church all over the world. Those who advise the Pope on the status of the situation globally aid in this monumental task.  The role is principally, but not exclusively taken up by clergy from all parts of the globe who have regular meetings with the Pope to advise him.

However, it seems that he has had some very questionable advice.  This can be seen very clearly in his remarks from his interview on the return flight from World Youth Day in Rio. 

The official Vatican transcript of the interview records a reporter asking him: “You did not speak about abortion, about same-sex marriage.  In Brazil a law has been approved which widens the right to abortion and permits marriage between people of the same sex.  Why did you not speak about this?”

Pope Francis replied, “The Church has already spoken quite clearly on this.  It was unnecessary to return to it, just as I didn’t speak about cheating, lying, or other matters on which the Church has a clear teaching!” 

When the reporter pressed again saying, “But the young are interested in this,” Pope Francis said, “Yes, though it wasn’t necessary to speak of it, but rather of the positive things that open up the path to young people.  Isn’t that right! Besides, young people know perfectly well what the Church’s position is.”

As many of the activists in the trenches of the culture wars in North America and Europe have remarked, the youth of today do not know what the Church teaches on these matters. They have misperceptions of the Church’s teachings, viewing them as a big ‘no’ to all things fun, but have no clue about the truth, beauty and depth of the Church’s teaching. Moreover, as speakers on these controversial topics will readily attest, the youth are hungry for such discussion, especially from those who, like Pope Francis, are willing and able to speak freely and from the heart about these issues.

Polling

Recent polling shows that Pope Francis has a higher approval rating, at 89% favorable or very favorable, among American Catholics than both of his predecessors. The same poll asked Catholics: “As you may know, Pope Francis recently remarked that the church has become too focused on issues like homosexuality, abortion and contraceptives. Do you agree or disagree?” Sixty-eight percent agreed. 

The same poll that found a majority of Catholics approving of Pope Francis and agreeing with his supposed belief that the church is too focused on abortion, etc., also showed that Catholic Americans approved of same-sex “marriage” at a higher rate than the average American.  The poll found 56% of all Americans approving of same-sex "marrige," but among Catholics it’s 60%. Even among Catholics who attend Mass every week, the poll notes a majority (53%) support homosexual "marriage." 

Similarly, questions on legal abortion found Catholic Americans only very slightly less approving than the average American. A majority of Catholics - 52% - were found to support legal abortion in all or most cases, with the American average at 54%. 

While it is undoubtedly a good thing that Pope Francis is able to reach a wide and diverse audience through his popularity, there are troubling questions about whether this popularity is based more upon an authentic encounter with the real Pope Francis and everything he stands for, or with a fabricated Pope that has been created by media-driven misinterpretations of some of the more ambiguous statements in his recent interviews.

There is a considerable body of evidence to indicate that many of the Pope’s more unlikely fans are more enamored with a pope of their own imagination than the real thing, and that at some point there is going to be a necessary correction in the public square, as many of these fans recognize that he will not, contrary to their hopes, change any Church teachings on their pet moral issues. 

Media using Pope’s remarks to attack Catholic activists

Since the off-the-cuff papal interviews began, it has become commonplace for media pundits to use selective quotes from Pope Francis to berate Catholic activists in the life and family arena. A few of the many examples will illustrate the trend.

On September 20, CNN host Chris Cuomo used Pope Francis’ remarks to attack the Catholic League’s Bill Donohue, a stalwart defender of the Church and her teachings on life and family matters.  “You just heard what the Pope said. Why wouldn’t you try to move past this parsing rhetoric and try to be what your Church is supposed to be about?” And again, cutting off Donohue, Cuomo quipped, “The Pope has given you a different message. He’s saying don’t make these statements about the homosexuals, don’t make these statements about the Jews, get back to what your Church is about. Jesus wasn’t about what you’re doing right now. Are you going to hear that message or not? Because it doesn’t sound like it.” 

On Fox News Detroit’s Let It Rip program of September 29, the hosts spoke with homosexual ‘marriage’ promoter John Corvino about a Catholic college’s decision to disinvite him from speaking on campus, and representing the Catholic position was Fr. Paul Nicholson, a priest known for his rock-solid evangelization efforts.  

On the show, not only Corvino, but also the hosts, repeatedly pushed Fr. Nicholson over their misreading of Pope Francis’ remarks. Speaking of the Pope, one of the hosts said, “He’s not endorsing the gay lifestyle but he’s saying we have to be more accepting of it.” Then again, answering the priest’s explanation that the Pope did not change Church teaching on the matter, the host said, “No, but he is saying, didn’t you think that he did say, that we need to be more accepting of gay people and not focus on the negatives of these peoples’ private lifestyles?”

An October 6th New York Times article covered a Catholic University voting on whether or not to remove coverage for elective abortion from the staff health care plan.  Writer Ian Lovett began his piece this way: “Not three weeks have passed since Pope Francis said the church had grown ‘obsessed’ with abortion, declaring, 'We have to find a new balance.' But on the campus of Loyola Marymount University, overlooking this city’s west side, a fight over abortion now threatens to rip the school asunder.”

Political Catholics

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, known as the leading promoter of abortion and homosexuality in Congress while simultaneously proclaiming herself to be a devout Catholic, was interviewed on CNN about the Pope’s remarks.  Like President Obama, who recently said he was “hugely impressed” with the Pope’s pronouncements, Pelosi was ecstatic. “(He’s) starting to sound like a nun. The Pope is starting to sound like the nuns,” Pelosi began, in an apprent reference to the liberal reputation of many of the older religious orders in the United States, many of which were recently investigated by the Vatican and promoting views contrary to the faith. 

“I was there for his inauguration. And I, being Catholic, believed that he was chosen Pope by the intercession of the Holy Spirit, so I pay attention to what he says,” she said. “And I can tell you that there is great joy among Catholics and friends of Catholics … It’s really quite remarkable. It’s a source of joy to us all.”

When the host noted that the comments were not a source of joy for all Catholics and that conservative Catholics had expressed some reservations, Pelosi responded: “I don’t know about them because certainly when it was another Pope who had something else to say, they wanted to hold us all to it.”

Pro-abortion New York Congressman Charles Rangel wrote in the New York Times that the Pope’s remarks were “a much-needed call for the clergy to move beyond the threats of excommunication or denying communion to pro-choice politicians.”

“As a former altar boy who has never shied away from pleading with the Church to broaden its focus beyond gays, abortion and birth control, I thank Pope Francis for urging the Church to refocus on its fundamental teachings of love and compassion,” he said.

Leaders of Catholic institutions

The new President of a Minnesota Catholic college used her reading of Pope Francis’ remarks on homosexuality to justify allowing practicing homosexuals to be professors at the college.  In her opening speech at convocation, Julie Sullivan, President of the University of St. Thomas, announced, “It pains me to think that a gay student, staff or faculty member would ever feel unwelcome or a need to ‘hide’ at St. Thomas. As Pope Francis reminds us, we are not called to judge. We are called to love and support everyone in our community regardless of their sexual orientation. And, I might add, regardless of the gender of their spouse.”

At a Catholic school board meeting in Ottawa, Ontario in late September, a Catholic trustee invoked Pope Francis to question a delegation of parents who were concerned over the board’s promotion of a pro-abortion group.  The parents suggested replacing problematic partners with those who “refuse to participate in any immoral activities.” After the presentation, a trustee demanded to know if the parent-presenter had “listened [to] or heard the Pope’s latest statement and clarification.”

Dissident Catholics

Initial euphoric reactions from liberal Catholics were trumpeted in mainstream media all over the world.

Catholics for a Free Choice, in their press release on the day of the publication of the Jesuit interview, said, “We welcome what Pope Francis said today when he called for the Catholic church to be ‘home for all’ and not a ‘small chapel’ focused on doctrine and limited views on moral teachings.”  The pro-abortion ‘Catholic’ group’s President, Jon O’Brien, added, “We hope he takes steps to ensure that his more open view of how the church should deal with people trickles down to his brother bishops around the world.”

The press release from the homosexuality promoting ‘Catholic’ group Dignity USA stated: “We find much to be hopeful about, particularly in the Pope’s firm desire that the Church be a ’home for all people,’ and his belief that God looks on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people with love rather than condemnation.”

DignityUSA Executive Director Marianne Duddy-Burke added: “LGBT Catholics and allies will rejoice in the Pope’s call for Church leaders to focus on being pastors rather than rule enforcers. We hope that the bishops will heed this call and immediately end their anti-LGBT campaigns, the firings of church workers for who they are, the attacks on people who challenge or question official teachings, and the exclusive and judgmental rhetoric that comes too often from our pulpits.” She concluded, “The Pope is unambiguous. Leave the bully pulpit, and accompany your people.”

Sister Jeanine Gramick, who heads up the pro-homosexual group New Ways Ministry, which has already been publicly sanctioned by Church leadership, was on MSNBC television with a glowing reaction to the Papal interview. ”I cried when I first began to read it,” she said.  She repeatedly said the Pope is saying that these “these hot button issues” are “not essential.”

Communists

Paul Kengor, a convert to Catholicism who was drawn, as he says, “to the Church initially in large part because of its stalwart anti-communism across centuries,” was dismayed to report that he found praise for Pope Francis in the pages of the radical communist publication People’s World.

Writing in the American Spectator, Kengor notes, “After decades of slandering, attacking, denigrating, and even trying to kill various popes in the Roman Catholic Church — from Pope Pius XII to Pope John Paul II — communists are suddenly embracing a pope.”

Commenting on the Jesuit magazine interview with Pope Francis, the Communist publication argued that “the most important point the Pope made regarded the narrow focus of some Catholics on a few controversial issues of sexual morality.”

Author Henry Millstein explained: “Why should this matter to progressives? Because Catholic (and other) right-wingers, including, lamentably, some bishops, have latched on to this narrow set of issues to promote a broader right-wing agenda. If the essence of being Catholic is to oppose abortion, gay marriage, and contraception, then faithful Catholics (and some other Christians) can easily be hoodwinked into supporting rightist candidates who line up with this agenda, disregarding flagrant violations of other aspects of Catholic teaching. Pope Francis knocked the legs out from under this ploy…”

From the Pews

Some of the first reaction from Catholics in the pews to be publicly revealed came in the column of Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput.   Describing responses he received to the Pope’s Jesuit magazine interview, Archbishop Chaput wrote:

Some people grasped at the interview like a lifeline — or a vindication. One person praised the Holy Father for stressing that the “Church must focus on compassion and mercy, not on enforcing small-minded rules.” She added that “we’re at last free from the chains of hatred that have ruled the Catholic Church for so many years and led to my unease in bringing my own children into that Church.”

More common though were emails from catechists, parents, and everyday Catholics who felt confused by media headlines suggesting that the Church had somehow changed her teaching on a variety of moral issues.

I heard from a mother of four children – one adopted, another disabled from birth — who’d spent years counseling pregnant girls and opening prolife clinics. She wanted to know why the Pope seemed to dismiss her sacrifices.

A priest said the Pope “has implicitly accused brother priests who are serious about moral issues of being small minded,” and that “[if you’re a priest,] being morally serious is now likely to get you publicly cast as a problem.” Another priest wrote that “the problem is that [the Holy Father] makes all of the wrong people happy, people who will never believe in the Gospel and who will continue to persecute the Church.”

LifeSiteNews co-founder Steve Jalsevac described another perception in his recent blog post on Pope Francis’ interviews. He related that his priest gave a homily on angels and demons with a strong pro-life emphasis and later there was a pro-life announcement that generated applause from the people. Afterward in the parking lot a “disgruntled older couple” was overheard “complaining about all the abortion talk during the Mass.”  One of them said, “Don’t they know what Pope Francis just said?"

A parish group in Ontario, Canada which has participated in a yearly fundraiser for the pro-life cause, has let the pro-life group in question know that “because of what the Holy Father has said,” they will no longer be participating in the fundraiser.

Catholics have also found a new need to defend against charges that the Pope is no longer pro-life. At a LifeChain on Sunday in Valparaiso, Indiana, Dr. Richard Stith reports, “we held our annual peaceful, prayerful Life Chain protest against abortion. A  Mennonite protester asked a Catholic, "What do you think of your Pope coming out pro-abortion?"

Priests

Priests have not been immune from misinterpretations of Pope Francis’ remarks. 

A Rhode Island newspaper did interviews with a number of local priests in response to Pope Francis’ “Who am I to judge” remark concerning homosexuality.

Father David Thurber, ordained in 2008, told the newspaper he saw in Pope Francis’ remarks a justification for refusing to deny communion to couples living together without being married. “I am not in the business of denying Communion,” he said. “As Pope Francis said, it’s not fair to judge. I preach the Gospel, and whoever hears it, hears it.”

Redemptorist priest Fr Tony Flannery, one of the five Irish priests censured by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith and threatened with excommunication over his stand on women priests and contraception, has also lauded the Pope’s interview.

He told the Irish Independent: “What the Pope said seems to amount to a fairly substantial critique of the way in which the Curia and, in particular, the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith have been operating.”

The Pope said that in some cases, when Vatican Congregations are not functioning well, "they run the risk of becoming institutions of censorship". The paper says the Pope’s call for local bishops’ conferences to handle such matters could potentially be "good news" for Fr. Flannery and the other censured Irish priests.

Fr Flannery added: “It changes the rules of the game in the sense that it appears that the Curia has largely been taken out of the business of dealing with disciplinary matters and it has been handed back to the local church to deal with it.”

He also said there was "no question" that the Pope was criticizing the "thought police" who spent their time reporting people to Rome.

Conclusion

Let us pray for Pope Francis and his collaborators that they may have the strength, courage and wisdom to direct the Church in Her mission to save souls. As Pope Leo XIII remarked in an 1899 encyclical letter to the then-Archbishop of Baltimore, some contend that “it would be opportune, in order to gain those who differ from us, to omit certain points of teaching which are of lesser importance, and to tone down the meaning which the Church has always attached to them.” However, he said, the Church has already visited such suggestions and has determined, “Such a policy would tend rather to separate Catholics from the Church than to bring in those who differ.”

Concluding his point, Pope Leo said that there was nothing closer to his heart “than to have those who are separated from the fold of Christ return to it.”  He added, however, “but in no other way than the way pointed out by Christ.”