dotCommonweal

A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors

.

Unprecedented liberal love for the Pope?

Commentary marking six months of Pope Francis has been a love-fest from the most unexpected place: liberal talk show hosts.

Chris Hayes started the series last week with the "Best. Pope. Ever." segment on his show, All In (MSNBC), in which we learned that Hayes's father had been a Jesuit and Hayes is feeling closer to the Church than he has since childhood. Then Melissa Harris-Perry, also on MSNBC, did a similarly positive piece on Sunday morning, highlighting many of the innovative pastoral decisions of Francis's young pontificate. While not Catholic herself, Harris-Perry is married to a Catholic and confesses deep connection with Catholic culture in her native New Orleans. Finally, a couple nights ago on The Daily Show, Jon Stewart joined the cascade of puff pieces about the Pope (though he ultimately redirected the segment to a satire of the possibility of his own successor also being more popular than him).

What's gotten into these liberal TV hosts? A secret cabal of pro-Catholic media executives in midtown? But that wouldn't explain the fact that evangelical flagship Christianity Today has similarly adored this Pope, nor could it account for liberal evangelical columnists on the west coast professing their admiration (e.g., critically-acclaimed journalist Cathleen Falsani).

Some might say it's just a chance to highlight religiously-grounded progressive causes. Maybe so. But I'll take Chris Hayes and Cathleen Falsani at their word. Falsani has a "crush" on this Pope, in the end, because "He's not fancy. He's a servant. ... He's leading by example." Hayes, for his part, is not holding out for dramatic changes in teaching, especially in the area of sexual ethics, but he nonetheless offered the on-camera encomium, concluding with these words:

Given the constraints of what being pope is, you can operate in one of two ways: you can be a jerk about it, or you can be awesome. And this guy is choosing to be awesome. And not only is that great for the Church, it’s great for the world to have a pope talking about what this pope is talking about: grace, humility, peace and compassion for others. Because that is the Church at its best, and the one that some part of me still loves. Amen.

Such closing words are not a normal throw-to-commercial on MSNBC, or any national network for that matter. Note also the relative youth of those praising the Pope in the segments cited above -- and their viewership skews even younger.

One undeniable fact about evangelization -- whether we call it "new evangelization" or not -- is that its outcomes are not entirely predictable. But the most tried and true method is walking-the-talk. Pope Francis has this in spades. And he's teaching us how to do it.

Topics: 

Comments

Commenting Guidelines

MIchael - yep, I've noticed the love-fest, too.  I know I am repeating myself in saying this, but that's ok: this pope has the heart of a servant - the heart of a deacon.  Any deacons out there, take note.  Walk the talk, and spread the Good News.

 

He is such a joy to watch.

I have been wondering how much the letter that Pope Francis wrote to Putin as host of the G20 meeting influnced his thinking about Syria. the letter showed such respect.

Many refreshing and intriguing changes of style, but alas, papalotry dies hard. It's so reminiscent of the early years of Pope John Paul II's long papacy.  The Church is the pope temptation. Or the other way round.

----

I thought the letter addresed to Putin, a corrupt dictator, was a mistake. It should have been addressed instead to each of the G 20 leaders by name. Is there any evidence that the pope's letter was read out or even mentioned at the meeting? But Putin was quick to give a passing nod to "the pope" in his NYT op-ed homily. And while the situation is now more promising, it's still a mighty tangle.

No doubt the enthusiasm will wane in some quarters as the "scandal" of the Christian message (Francis) surfaces. But the comparison to John Paul is not a good one. Certainly, John Paul II was great on ecumenism. But his intolerance of others within the church was ugly from the start. His treatment of Romero and others was shameful. Francis brings the true message of life. There is no guile in this man. One can truly say: "God has visited his people." Anything can change. But so far so good.

Even on this blog, I have noticed a lack of critical thinking regarding this pope. I have posted one or two quotes by him that would normally raise a red flag, but never got a reaction. If Benedict had said the same things, people would be all upset about it. Either it's because Francis is not so careful with words and says ambiguous, even almost contradictory things sometimes, so we don't take his words as seriously; or it's because we love him and always jump to interpret whatever he says in the most favorable way possible.

I agree that his impact is prodigious. Even me, it has happened several times already that I have acted differently because I remembered something he had said! So he influenced my actions, as if he was my pastor! 

But I won't let him off the hook for the most important church-wide issues that the pope must deal with. Just because he has so many personal qualities and is so likable will not excuse him if he turns out to ignore the sex abuse scandal or lets the CDF continue to oppress the people within its reach.

 

Maybe after the finger-wagging last two pontificates, Francis is such a blessed breath of fresh air that people are willing to take the good, overlook what is considered "the bad," and hope for the best.

Bill Mazzella:

"His treatment of Romero and others was shameful." I agree but the tipping point for me was the picture of JPII recieiving $ from Macial.  To his credit  BXVI dealt with that scoundrel very soon after his election to the papacy.

 

John Page, I see your point about Putin but I thought the letter showed some rather significant political savvy. He opened his letter with the words:

"In the course of this year, you have the honour and the responsibility of presiding over the Group of the twenty largest economies in the world."

Later on, he wrote:

"To the leaders present, to each and every one, I make a heartfelt appeal for them to help find ways to overcome the conflicting positions and to lay aside the futile pursuit of a military solution. Rather, let there be a renewed commitment to seek, with courage and determination, a peaceful solution through dialogue and negotiation of the parties, unanimously supported by the international community. Moreover, all governments have the moral duty to do everything possible to ensure humanitarian assistance to those suffering because of the conflict, both within and beyond the country’s borders."

Remember John XXIII met with Khrushchev's son-in-law and daughter and that was at the height of the Cold War.

 

"His [JPII’s] treatment of Romero…was shameful."

JPII conferred upon Romero the title of Servant of God, and opened the cause for his beatification/canonization.

Guess conservatives have a different understanding of the word “shameful” than liberals.

Mark, 

Nice try. JP II waited 17 years before declaring Romero a servant of God. Meanwhile he was canonizing everyone under the son. He considered Maciel a saint. It is not a matter of conservative/liberal. Outlandish that you place it in that category.

Mark

the treatment BEFORE his murder shameful. IMO JPII leaving Romero alone and scolding him caused his murder

Didn't John Paul II want to put Romero's canonization on hold for 50 years.? I think we should do the same with John Paul II's own cause; let's wait and see what the level of interest is 50 years frrom now- like we just did with Pope John. Really,  what's the big hurry.

Bill--

You say JPII considered Maciel a saint.   He did not open a cause for his beatification.   You are 0 for 2.   Care to take a 3rd wild swing?

Mary--

When did JPII scold Romero, and what did he scold him for?

Mark:

You can't be beatified until you are dead. Maciel died in 2008.  (JPII died in 2005 and I have never heard of a Pope beatifying or canonizing any one from the grave.)

I read the Romero'diary. 

Romero writes that it was very difficult to him  to have an audience with JPII. When finally JPII received him, he was very cold , he scolded him saying “ you are divisive  in your country and why do you  criticize  the Government and the Army?” Romero had   brought a photo of a priest murdered by soldiers. JPII looked it and said : did he belong to the guerrilla?

Romero writes “ after this I  went out and wept “  he felt himself abandoned by Vatican.

He was killed shortly after this.

 

The way this thread is going underscores what was lost in the haste to raise JPII to the altars, namely the chance to come to terms with his legacy. On one hand, he was an autocrat of limited autocratic vision. On the other hand, he spurred many vocations. Some want him to be styled "the great," although the Great popes all saved something -- Rome (from the Huns), plainchant and marriage. Pope John Paul II should be best remembered for having lost something, Europe. But it's all hail and move on. That's at the behest mainly of Pope Francis, the liberals' hero.

FWIW, I usually qualify as a liberal -- although today it seems as if anyone who is not a mouth-breathing, other-hating anarchist qualifies as a liberal in the eyes of self-credentialed conservatives -- and I love Francis. I also loved Benedict. I didn't much like or dislike JPII. It was simply a case of never understanding him.

Frequently, what separates liberals from conservatives is not so much that they are on opposing sides of a given issue, but that they have different lists and rankings of which issues are important.  I believe this helps us understand why Francis is being embraced by the liberal punditocracy.  For Francis to talk about gay priests and communion for divorced people, and to show solidarity with the poor, reveals a different set of priorities than Benedict.'s  And while I'm sure that we can find quotes from Benedict on these matters (after all, he was in the Vatican limelight for decades and wrote quite a bit), I think it would be difficult to argue that these were Benedict's "hot buttons".  

Benedict seemed to care quite a bit about the future of the Church in Europe, and interreligious dialogue.  Those are important issues, but they're not the sorts of things that will grab the attention of a Jon Stewart or even a Stephen Colbert.  Or most of the people in the pews at my parish.

Archbishop Denis Hurley of Durban, South Africa (the cardinal South Africa never had), was the courageous leader of Catholic opposition to apartheid in his native country. In the early 1980s, he was in Rome for meetings on matters related to the International Commision on English in the Liturgy, of which he was chairman. During his time in Rome, the archbishop asked for an audience (or was summoned to, I'm not sure) with Pope John Paull II, principally to discuss the situation in South Africa. When Archbishop Hurley returned from the audience, he was perplexed and uncharacteristically downcast. The pope was largely uncomprehending, and made clear that he thought Denis Hurley was taking a too active and "political" role in his opposition.

With Irene Baldwin, I ask what's the rush? The Polish Church would be disappointed. But is the fact that Pope John Paul named Jorge Mario Bergoglio an auxiliary bishop, an archbishop, a cardinal also something of a factor?

Liberals love Francis because he is deescalating the Church's role in the culture wars. Nobody expects him to change the official position, but there is hope that the Catholic Church will stop leading ballot initiatives and persecuting Catholics who question the official positions.

John Page:

"The pope was largely uncomprehending, and made clear that he thought Denis Hurley was taking a too active and 'political' role in his opposition."

Interesting when one considers how involved Pope John Paul II was in the political situation in Poland.

 

 

Tom:

How Christlike of you to describe conservatives as mouth-breathing other-hating anarchists.  I had begun to believe that you were a fair-minded person.  Guess I was wrong.

The biggest concern from people I know is the Church's pastoral approach. Pope Francis is right on when he says that first attitutdes must change before the Church can respond to culture. 

What is most important is that we begin to share experiences with one another ... have that crossing-of-the-bridge experience ... and stop dehumanizing people with intellectual and ideological debates that will The biggest concern from people I know is the Church's pastoral approach. surely result in stalemate and acrimony and division.

We believe the Church is suffering greatly from the overly clericalized view of church structure and overly sacralized view of magisterial authority held by many in the hierarchy and promoted under the pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict. We believe that if any perspective verges on heresy, it is one that asserts (functionally if not verbally) that preserving the clericalist hierarchical structure is more important than the Eucharist, effective pastoral care, and genuine community. It seems to ignore at best and contravene at worst the example and teaching of Jesus in the Gospels. But a church genuinely rooted in the Spirit given to each and every one of the baptized, and willing to move forward in trust and welcome the gifts of all — that could change the world.

The difficulty in discussing Catholicism with those who ask questions or have doubts lies in seeking a way of thinking outside of strict dualities. Many of the hidden truths of Christianity have been misunderstood or lost and how to read them with the eyes of the mystics rather than interpreting them through rational thought. ~ Stephen DeVol, CITVN Executive Producer

The biggest concern from people I know is the Church's pastoral approach. Pope Francis is right on when he says that first attitutdes must change before the Church can respond to culture. 

What is most important is that we begin to share experiences with one another ... have that crossing-of-the-bridge experience ... and stop dehumanizing people with intellectual and ideological debates that will surely result in stalemate and acrimony and division.

We believe the Church is suffering greatly from the overly clericalized view of church structure and overly sacralized view of magisterial authority held by many in the hierarchy and promoted under the pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict. We believe that if any perspective verges on heresy, it is one that asserts (functionally if not verbally) that preserving the clericalist hierarchical structure is more important than the Eucharist, effective pastoral care, and genuine community. It seems to ignore at best and contravene at worst the example and teaching of Jesus in the Gospels. But a church genuinely rooted in the Spirit given to each and every one of the baptized, and willing to move forward in trust and welcome the gifts of all — that could change the world.

The difficulty in discussing Catholicism with those who ask questions or have doubts lies in seeking a way of thinking outside of strict dualities. Many of the hidden truths of Christianity have been misunderstood or lost and how to read them with the eyes of the mystics rather than interpreting them through rational thought. ~ Stephen DeVol, CITVN Executive Producer, Catholic Worker Movement