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Much hated but loved pope

HONG KONG (SE): A popular pope is one thing and Pope Francis enjoys a high popularity rating on a much wider front than members of his own flock, but he also has enemies, many of them powerful, articulate and with loud voices.
But popes have become accustomed to criticism. Father Bruce Duncan, a journalist and Church historian at the Yarra Theological Union in Box Hill, Australia, points out that Pope John XXIII lamented the opposition and disobedience of the Vatican Curia; and Pope Paul VI took a lot of flak over the way he managed Vatican II and dialogue with the Communists, not to mention his controversial encyclical, Humane Vitae (the transmission of human life).
The role Pope John Paul II played in Poland was applauded, but his handling of the liberation theology debate, roll back of liturgical reforms, conservative moral theology and inability to engage on gender issues, as well as failure to address sexual abuse put him squarely in the gun sights.
Pope Benedict XVI was highly praised for stepping down as his powers declined, but drew complaints for spending too much time on theology at the expense of  day-to-day management.
But Father Duncan says that he finds an attitude of what he calls creeping infallibility among some Catholics, who take everything a pope says as infallible truth, problematic, as it is a thesis that Pope Francis does not subscribe to.
Pope Francis believes passionately in dialogue, but expects it to be up front, not coming out of cliques. He expects it to be courteous and open along the lines of Pope Paul’s encyclical, On Dialogue, of 1964.
However, in what has been described as the war against Pope Francis, the bulk of the criticism circles around four topics; his views on migrants, global capitalism, climate change and his review of Church teaching on sex.
But some of his most vehement critics are cardinals, bishops and priests, many of whom have a hankering for the old ways of clerical culture, looking to set in concrete the foundations of the pedestals that they want to sit on, much to the chagrin of the pope.
A significant number of young clergy want to embrace the Latin liturgy, which Pope Francis has done nothing to encourage, as his predecessor did, but at the same time, he has not moved against it.
But there is also a strong nostalgia for a strict set of rules and regulations, which Father Duncan calls a law and order approach, with lines in the sand separating who is on the inside from who is on the outer.
But Pope Francis rejects that approach strongly, insisting that the gospel is for everyone—no exceptions.
Father Duncan says, “Pope Francis rejects such exclusion strongly… Priests should demolish any pedestals on which people may place them; they should go to the streets and the homes, get mud on their boots, smell like the sheep and carefully listen to their people, supporting them in their struggles.”
However, he has also prioritised the search for meaning and motivation in a wide variety of situations and places great emphasis on the difficulty of personal circumstances and relationships.
“He demands of priests and pastoral workers a great sensitivity to the consciences of people as they strive to care for their families and societies,” Father Duncan writes.
In the Joy of Love, he highlights an approach to moral theology from St. Thomas Aquinas in his teaching on prudence, or insightful judgement on decision-making, which allows for a flexibility in what can be considered reasonable and possible in often complex situations.
This is not a new debate, as it has been going on for centuries. It gave birth to Jansenism in the seventh century, which stressed the sinfulness of people and the wrath of God.
Father Duncan is a Redemptorist, and he cites the response of the founder of his congregation, St. Alphonsus Liguori, as stressing the mercy of the advocacy of God.
He then quotes Pope Francis as saying that it is not enough to simply apply moral laws to those living in irregular situations, as the natural law is not like a set of rules imposed a priori, “but a source of objective inspiration for the deeply personal process of making decisions” (Joy of Love 306).
But why is this a problem? Father Duncan believes it arises from so many priests who were taught moral theology by canon lawyers not well versed in the subject matter or the idea of prudence that St. Thomas Aquinas taught so clearly.
But the pope has also attacked the modern economy that makes the few enormously rich and leaves a vast majority out of the pie.
His attacks on the ideology that justifies this has seen millions poured into think tanks charged with proving the opposite.
In this group, Father Duncan places the Koch brothers, Michael Novak, George Weigel, John Richard Neuhaus and the Acton Institute.
Catholics in politics often have no interest in Church social teaching, other than sexual mores. They leave workers, migrants, nuclear issues and climate change to fend for themselves.
So, Father Duncan concludes, the reason why the most loved man in the Church is also the most hated is really not a great mystery.

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