Tuesday, September 24, 2013

On The Whole Interview Thing....

What follows here won't necessarily be coherent, just a few observations.

1.) When I first read the interview (still haven't read it all the way through), I won't deny my first emotions were regret and anger. It felt like we were being betrayed. It seemed like the Pope was throwing in the towel on pro-life and pro-marriage issues, and delivering a giant wet kiss to the secular left, and especially liberal bishops who will gladly tell their flocks to stop caring about pro-life activities.

2.) When I'm honest with myself, perhaps Francis has a read on things better than I realized. He warns of a "collapse" if we don't change our approach. As a traditionalist, I say forget the warnings: that collapse has arrived. Eight years ago we were banning partial birth abortions, and gay marriage was a decisive loser at the ballot box. Now we have an HHS mandate the public mostly supports (seriously, stop deluding yourselves into thinking the public doesn't support "free" contraceptives, most Catholics support them!), and legalized gay marriage in America is an inevitability. In America we chose to fight a culture war, and we've lost decisively. If anyone has an idea why, I need to listen to them, and everyone else does as well.

3.) The Pope sees the Church losing the culture because Catholic social teaching has essentially become a creed of thou shalt nots. The decline is a really complex issue with a lot of causes. Yet let's not kid ourselves, this is a big part of it. We've done a lot of great work on pro-life causes, and there's actually a chance we might start moving the needle on the abortion debate, if ever so slightly. Yet how much of Catholic social teaching do we Catholics promote, especially in America? The conservative movement (of which I am proudly a part) for the most part looks at the concept of "social justice" as "socialist justice." Why? Because for the most part, we Catholics have ceded the personal responsibliity social teaching emphasizes to the welfare state. The support networks that have flourished in Catholic culture throughout history are non-existent today. Go to the USCCB website on marriage and family. You have to do a lot of digging before you find serious treatments on the issue that everyone is just starting to pay attention to in secular culture: the collapse of the nuclear family, especially amongst Catholic circles. We can't blame the liberals for this, this breakdown has happened amongst our own.

What are the problems the nuclear family faces in America? What can Catholics do to promote the nuclear family again? How can we do that without stimagitizing people who made mistakes yet still need salvation and compassion? What policies should Catholics lobby for to take our country in a more pro-nuclear family direction? How much do lay Catholics talk about these things? Are we talking a lot about how to deal with the long-term unemployed, and the real pain and suffering associated with that? This kind of stuff is where a lot of people really are suffering right now, and the Church doesn't have creative answers to that. We need them.

4.) Whenever you talk about this stuff, we hear "oh you are just a seamless garment liberal who wants to move away from abortion." This kinda proves the whole point. It isn't that the fate of the unemployed is on the same threat level to society that abortion and gay marriage are. They aren't. Yet these views really do flow from the dignity of the person and family that we use to defend marriage and pro-life views. We don't have to water down abortion when we talk about these things. We can also use these things to bring people to the truth of the dignity of the person.

5.) We can, but in the end, we also can do the opposite. Decline is a choice. We can choose to ignore abortion and gay marriage, become "pastoral" and just become another NGO with our talking points. Or we can flesh out our views on abortion/gay marriage with several other issues. We can do this without being a Bernadin seamless garment liberal. (And maybe it's just time for the tribalism to stop already, trads/conservatives can talk about this stuff as well!) Even if the Pope said we shouldn't talk about being pro-life (and he didn't), the Pope isn't the head of a personality cult where we must do his every bidding. Yet he is the Vicar of Christ who we should listen to carefully, and be challenged by. I heard two friends lately, one a traditionalist, and another who isn't, who feel we should just stop listening to what the Bishop of Rome says because of how confusing everything is. That can lead to a very dangerous place, and I'm not ready to walk that line unless I had no choice.

6.) I'm not saying I'm a huge fan of "the interview." Personally I don't know what to think. I do wish "The Vatican" (such as it exists) would develop better message disicpline and a communications strategy. (They had to know this was going to blow up the way it did.) Yet can we develop discipline yet maintain the "shoot interview" Pope Francis is notorious for, where he breaks the stereotype and says something which, for better or worse, is truly authentic? That's going to be a tough balancing act. I have my ideas of what "I would do differently", but honestly, you can get far better ideas from every other big name commentator out there. Me, I find myself being self-critical here. I certainly don't have a better idea, so maybe, just maybe, I should listen to the Pope. I don't have to do everything how he does it, but there's a chance that maybe some of it could help me be a better witness to the Gospel. I really wish people would do that rather than jump out with "what the Pope REALLY means is X" or "the Pope is just naive and doesn't understand the reality on the ground, etc."

We will never be able to escape battles surrounding abortion, contraception and gay marriage, nor should we. Yet I really think we should be more open to criticism and self-reflection, or at least as open to it as we are to throwing out criticism and reflecting on others.


  1. This may be surprising, but I prefer Pope Francis to ignore the worldy advice of media savvy. It will keep the media guessing and keep Catholics watching him more closely, while at the same time preserving the freshness and energy the Gospel demands.

    Let the devil have his soundbites. We can't win that war, and we shouldn't try. We have a fine Pope, and if we can avoid dissecting him we might recognize that fact more easily.

  2. Nothing is ever surprising when it comes to you. "Surprising" would be saying what the stereotype demands.

    We don't need to win at their own game, but there's nothing wrong with a Pope who knows how to work the media. What made Leo XIII an interesting pope was not that he said a lot of new things, but unlike most popes, he was an exceptionally gifted writer and knew how to communicate to an audience.

    It's why he is such an influential pope all these years later, probably one of the most influential, even if he doesn't get any credit for it.

    So I don't want a huge change, but a little better handling isn't too much to ask.

    1. If the Pope is consistent, his consistency will be used against him. If he is not consistent, his inconsistency will be used against him. If he strikes a fine balance between personable expression and consistent preaching, this balance will be used against him. If he is perfectly holy, they'll suspect he hides something. When dealing with a media ignorant of the faith even when not hostile to it, we win nothing and gain sensation.

      It should fall upon us, I believe, to do that handling. Grassroots blog campaigns, or Catholic memes about listening to the Pope and not the media --- Catholic Memes has some great ones already with Pope Francis making that disappointed face in the third panel --- or just generally going "ad fontes" in terms of Pope Francis, and popes in general, will do more good more quickly than a single well-reported story caused by good handling.

  3. Kevin, thank you for this very good post. I've reassessed my views on these issues at least since the year before last. Nothing happens in a vacuum. Abortion, contraception, "gay" marriage, etc all these have several complex factors. In the case of abortion, I sincerely believe that the way in which our economy is set up does help to encourage them. However, there are ways to help reduce them. Better education. Support good social justice inititives. You mentioned unemployment. That I'm sure is also a contributing factor to abortion,etc as well. Primarily, supporting the family, especially marriage is extremely important and you are correct that not enough is being done. Also, more than anything, we must love. I liked the pope's interview, especially when he talked about the Church being a hospital. We must bind wounds. There are so many people in pain and sadly we haven't done a good job to love and to welcome them. That must be done first by showing the love of Christ. If we don't do that, then everything else we do, including pro-life stuff, will be nothing.

    1. I'm an agnostic on what contributes to abortion. I just think that the do's are pretty important, even if we have to plant a flag on the do nots.

  4. I talked with a friend last night who is deeply involved with the pro-life movement as a sidewalk counselor. From his vantage point, he seemed to indicate that the Holy Father's words took much energy out of those who work the issue on the deckplate level like him. He was further puzzled by the belief that Catholics obsess on such issues given their difficulty to actually get priests to mention contraception, abortion or homosexuality.

    I think that point to problem and it isn't the first time we have encountered it. Now what the Pope said was of course nothing contrary to the faith. But how he said it matters because what he did in effect was undercut many of his own "soldiers" who are out every day fighting for justice on such issues. No one doubts that he has a "pastor's heart" but quite frankly, he isn't Father Bergoglio anymore and the World is not his parish. While such glib talk and the pastoral emphasis was certainly necessary when he was priest working the deckplates himself, he is now the head of the Church and therefore has to take into account his job of managing the big picture all while using his priests to do the job of being pastor's. I would like to see him focus on his priests in a manner that allows them to not be undercut in doing their jobs to help the faithful.

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.


At this current time due to time constraints comments are moderated. Avoid flaming, chest-thumping and stick on topic and your comments will be quickly approved. Do the opposite and they stay in never never land.