Popes & Intellectuals: Some Questions
In a recent comment elevated to a post Peter Steinfels wonders at “some Catholic intellectuals” who have pictures of certain recent popes hanging on their walls.
On one level, I have no argument with that–there can be no doubt that Catholic intellectuals can adopt a position of uncritical adulation toward a pope who seems to align with their particular agenda.
But Peter’s comment raises a couple concerns and questions.
First, I am not sure that the adulation of John Paul II or Benedict XVI on the part of conservative Catholic intellectuals is any different from adulation of John XXIII on the part of liberal Catholic intellectuals.
In short: the culture wars we have with us always.
Second, Peter says that while it is OK for ordinary people to have pictures of popes and political figures on their walls (as signs of “loyalty, gratitude, and hope”), to see intellectuals doing the same is disturbing.
I sense danger here.
Are Catholic intellectuals called to some sort of Olympian detachment — some height of austere critical consciousness — that we cannot hang the picture of a pope on our walls as the common people do?
Which raises the fundamental question I want to ask — a question that I personally struggle with.
Catholic intellectuals should not be uncritical toward popes. Granted.
But what about the other side of the question? Is it possible to be so critical, so detached, that as Catholic intellectuals we lose some affectivity toward the bishop of Rome that we should have?
How can criticism and loyalty, attachment and detachment, co-exist?
And where do we turn to find the theological and spiritual resources to answer these questions?