In late July, the very secular paper, USA Today, reported: “Growing conservative disaffection with Pope Francis appears to be taking a toll on his once Teflon-grade popularity in the U.S., with a new Gallup poll showing the pontiff’s favorability rating among all Americans dropping to 59% from a 76% peak early last year. Among conservatives, the drop-off has been especially sharp: Just 45% view Francis favorably today, as opposed to 72% a year ago.”
Some of the pope’s most tireless Catholic “conservative” defenders – including some who have suggested he could just wave his magic pope-wand and allow the cohabiting and divorced to receive Communion – are finally wearying of the constant barrage of nagging. Elizabeth Scalia, the doyenne of Patheos’ neo-Catholic bloggers, wrote recently that she is growing weary of Pope Francis’ constant “scolding” on his pet topics of capitalism, the poor, the environment or the ill-defined “mercy”.
Ms. Scalia observed recently that of a group of Catholics on an internet forum discussing the pope’s environmental encyclical, “some were weary-negative of the encyclical; some were weary-positive. What struck me most was that they all seemed in some way weary.”
“Some of them wish Francis was clearer in his meaning; they’re tired of trying to ‘figure out’ his point, which often seems ambiguous. Others are tired of trying to defend and explain him.” Either way, she says, “I’m just tired of feeling scolded.”
Carl Olson, editor of Catholic World Report, noted Scalia’s backing away from Francis and also wrote in July that more Catholics on the “right” of the US Church were getting worn out by this “hyperbolic and exhausting” pontificate.
Olson relates the reaction to the encyclical by a study group of his Catholic friends: “It seemed to me that many of the guys were most deeply annoyed by the tone and style of the encyclical. Descriptives such as ‘hyperbolic’ and ‘over-the-top’ and ‘scolding’ were used. ‘He repeatedly tells nations and leaders and individuals that they ought to do this, ought to do that, ought to do, do, do...’ said one man, ‘It’s exhausting!’”
“Scalia’s excellent post,” he added, “captures quite well, I think, the weariness I encounter, more and more, in a lot of Catholics. They are not ‘Woe is me!’ but they are certainly tired of the seemingly constant addresses, homilies, interviews, texts—many of which read like lectures—that come from the Holy Father.”
Among all the theological and political … surprises… of this pontificate, the hairs-breadth almost-denials of doctrine, the misrepresentation of scripture, the sycophantic relationship with the political left and, perhaps most damning, the ignoring of the ongoing systematic genocide of Christians in their ancient Near East homelands, it is perhaps a bit absurd to complain that we “feel scolded.” But it’s a sign, at least, that people are reaching some kind of breaking point.
More serious accusations against this pope have been coming from many different sources right from the start, and have more recently escalated into an almost thunderous crescendo since the bizarre and frightening Extraordinary Synod of Bishops last year. We are reminded of the warning issued by Fr. Brian Harrison, the highly regarded theologian, immediately after Cardinal Kasper’s consistorial warning shot in February 2014.
Fr. Harrison wrote that the Church faced outright disintegration, global schism and chaos, if this plan were allowed to go forward. In response to the bland reportage of the consistory from Inside the Vatican’s Robert Moynihan, Harrison warned, “Your brief, matter-of-fact report on this controversy reminds me of the tip of an iceberg.
It alludes to, but does not reveal the immensity of, a massive, looming threat that bids fair to pierce, penetrate and rend in twain Peter’s barque – already tossing perilously amid stormy and icy seas. The shocking magnitude of the doctrinal and pastoral crisis lurking beneath this politely-worded dispute between scholarly German prelates can scarcely be overstated. For what is at stake here is fidelity to a teaching of Jesus Christ that directly and profoundly affects the lives of hundreds of millions of Catholics: the indissolubility of marriage.
Considering Fr. Harrison’s stature in the mainstream of the Church, and given his extraordinarily strong language, it is perhaps surprising that these comments received so little attention. Indeed, even with many more voices of warning, the majority of Catholics seem still to be oblivious. Francis continues to enjoy immense support among the majority of nominal Catholics – especially in Italy – who are still rejoicing over the cool pope who likes to take selfies and seems to be telling them that the religious part of their religion really doesn’t matter very much; just think nice thoughts about the poor and be careful to recycle. For most, he’s a post-Conciliar dream-pope.
In fact, the half million signatures on an online petition begging Pope Francis to get back to the job of defending the Catholic Faith, could perhaps be used as a rough guide to estimate how many believing Catholics there are left in the world.
As of today, the somewhat famous Filial Appeal has garnered 502,610 signatures. It forthrightly begs the pope to commit the Church to opposing, rather than accommodating, the Sexual Revolution at the Synod for the sake of the salvation of souls.
Your Holiness, in light of information published on the last Synod, we note with anguish that, for millions of faithful Catholics, the beacon seems to have dimmed in face of the onslaught of lifestyles spread by anti-Christian lobbies. In fact we see widespread confusion arising from the possibility that a breach has been opened within the Church that would accept adultery—by permitting divorced and then civilly remarried Catholics to receive Holy Communion—and would virtually accept even homosexual unions when such practices are categorically condemned as being contrary to Divine and natural law.
The convenient list of “personalities” who have signed the Appeal, tells us something else we more or less already knew. Apart from apparently most of the episcopate of Brazil and a smattering from around the rest of Latin America, very, very few “western” names are on the list among the bishops and princes of the Church.
Though it’s been signed by dozens of bishops, scholars, members of pontifical councils and academies, even by the vestiges of European royalty, there has reportedly been not one flicker of recognition of its existence, either from the pope himself or any of the Vatican’s media offices. We’ll see how it goes in October.
While another Remnant columnist is currently preparing a comprehensive theological examination of pope’s utterances over the last two years, those interested in pursuing their own study might find interesting a Spanish website (with English translations) comparing his expressions directly with legitimate, official doctrinal sources, often with devastating conclusions. Bergoglio-Denzinger is an enlightening, cool-headed and highly informed read by a group of priests.
Meanwhile, the more “rustico” grumbling from us plebs and working stiffs on the ground continues. The other day someone at the American Catholic blog revisited their annoyance at a comment Francis made early in his pontifical career to the effect that we should all clean our plates because there are children starving in Africa.
Throwing away food is like stealing from the table of those who are poor and hungry,” he said during his weekly audience in St. Peter’s Square. His words came on the day the United Nations launched an anti-food waste campaign to mark World Environment Day.
Consumerism has made us accustomed to wasting food daily and we are unable to see its real value,” Francis said, comparing this attitude to the frugality of “our grandparents” who “used to make a point of not throwing away leftover food.
I remember my first reaction to this news item (before we had all learned to filter out most of what he said). It was more or less just a blank and blinky stare of incredulity. Really? Clean our plates? This is what we can expect from this pope?
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Donald R. McClarey, a contributor to the American Catholic ‘blog, recalls his childhood response to the same admonition from his mother, which I admit was exactly the same one I gave to Sr. Anne Marie in my elementary school – which earned me yet another trip to Sr. Norah’s office: “Well, why don’t we send it to them then, because I don’t want it.”
McClarey continues, “One of the salient, and tiresome, features about this current pontificate is just how much of a nag Pope Francis is.”
“The Pope’s constant nagging about everything under the sun would be more tolerable if it also were not usually accompanied with rhetorical excess and be factually challenged. Throwing out uneaten food has nothing to do with taking food from the poor, and a culture of consumerism helps to ensure that the poor are fed,” he continues.
But I think this misses the point: the pope’s nagging isn’t about “everything under the sun.” It conspicuously leaves out one very important sub-solar item: religion. His nagging is annoying mainly because it is banal. It is trite, childish, worldly, materialistic and often contradictory. So much so that one is led regularly to wonder if Francis really means – or is even interested in – what he’s saying.
But most importantly it has had very little to do with the content of the “faith and morals” that are supposedly the purpose of his office. The nagging, the scolding and tedious and often incomprehensible admonishing, that seem to be the only style of discourse he knows, would not be nearly so offensive if it had any serious, weighty moral or doctrinal content.
Clean our plates? Seriously? That’s what is in his head? Is this the kind of intellect and moral formation that is now leading the Church? How about give up fornicating, contracepting, aborting and euthanizing…? The mind boggles.
If Francis wants to scold the world, there is plenty of material. We’re a people teetering on the knife edge of total auto-annihilation from a multitude of sources. Birth rates across the western world are in the death spiral and are falling even in the more fecund “global south.” An article in the New York Times this week declared that there is a crisis of abandoned residential properties in Japan; there just aren’t enough people left in that country to fill the existing houses, and there are ghost towns growing up everywhere.
Homosexuality has been vastly approved in laws around the world, even in the formerly Catholic countries. Babies are being euthanized for the crime of being born disabled. Old people in the Netherlands and Belgium aren’t afraid of being lonely, they’re afraid of being killed by the state.
And then there’s ISIS. And there’s Boko Haram. And there’s Al Shabaab. There’s still even Al Qaeda. The Apocalyptic daily sight of systematic mass murder, mass enslavement of non-Muslim and Christian women. The ravaging, slavering rabid beast that is resurgent militant Islam has come back to threaten the remnants of Christendom, even in the pope’s own town.
Dear Holy Father, you like mercy and you like admonishing and scolding; well and good; we could do with all three. But please, please, try to remember that the Church is supposed to be about religion. It’s not salvation from hunger or poverty or illness or global warming that Christ died on the cross to effect. Can we please have a little religion, now and then? It doesn’t have to be fancy. And it’s all pretty much been written down already…
How about the Seven Spiritual Works of Mercy? Remember those?
1. Admonish the sinner
2. Instruct the ignorant
3. Counsel the doubtful
4. Comfort the sorrowful
5. Bear wrongs patiently
6. Forgive all injuries
7. Pray for the living and the dead
Or maybe the Six Precepts of The Church:
1. To attend Holy Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation and to refrain from servile work;
2. To Confess our sins at least once a year (traditionally done during Lent);
3. To receive Holy Communion at least once a year during the Easter Season (known as the "Easter duty");
4. To observe the days of fasting and abstinence;
5. To help contribute to the support of our pastors and provide for the needs of the Church according to one's abilities and station in life;
6. To obey the marriage laws of the Church.
Considering that most Catholics don’t believe in the Real Presence in the Eucharist, that most Catholic married couples contracept, that Catholics have abortions at the same rate as the general population, that Catholics support “gay marriage,” and even legalized euthanasia, and that only a tiny fraction of Catholics attend Mass every week, I’d say that might be good to be getting on with, wouldn’t you?