Rhetorical Questions: In Defense of Pope Francis

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I read an article from the Washington Post yesterday called “Like Pope Francis? You’ll love Jesus.” Basically, it’s a tongue in cheek notation of the way in which so many left-leaning politicians, celebrities, etc, are all enthused over Pope Francis for what they perceive as a shift in Church policies and attitudes.  The author of the article points out that all Francis is really doing is reiterating ideas that have been innate in the Catholic Church since its founding by Christ.  So, to all those non-Catholics or fallen-away Catholics who are suddenly finding this papacy a reason to be invigorated by their faith again–this isn’t new.  The Catholic faith has always been this invigorating!

I think the article makes an excellent point, and it’s nice to see it somewhere like the Washington Post.  More importantly, however, it offers already-faithful Catholics, who probably love Francis because he is renewing and living the tenets of the Catholic faith given to us by Christ, some rich food for thought.

Obviously, Catholics aren’t out to please the entire world. But there is something to be said for the interest Francis has sparked from so many diametrically-opposed groups.  Nor has he garnered such support by somehow compromising Catholic morality or Catholic teaching.  So what has he done that has suddenly made the Catholic Church and its faith more palatable to people who wouldn’t have touched us with a 15 foot pole before?

First, I think there’s something to be said for his demeanor on the most superficial level.

From the very beginning of his papacy, when he stopped by his hotel to pick up his bags personally, or when he called the newspaper vendor from his former diocese, Francis has impressed the world with his affability, his humility, and his humanity.  Not that all our other popes have been stiff or vain–but Francis has such an air of approachability.  We must imagine that Christ had this same air; people from all groups felt able to approach Him without fear of judgment or exclusion, and, upon approaching Him, to feel that He was truly looking at them, listening and speaking to them.  This is the impression people have gotten from Pope Francis.


Secondly, it’s his method of delivery when speaking, preaching, or writing.  Having fostered with his manner an openness to dialogue in many people who might otherwise have ignored him, he next tends to demonstrate a corresponding gentleness in how he says what he says. That is not to say that he is weak, ambiguous, or abstract (he’s been accused of all three).  But everything he says is uttered simply, logically, and charitably.  He sets an example of the things he talks about, especially in regards to love of neighbor, and is so unassuming that you find yourself listening, I think, even when you don’t intend to.

But that brings us to the third aspect of Francis’ appeal, which is the content of his message. I find it interesting that Francis has been frequently called ‘naive’, cast by Catholic and secular media alike as though he stumbled into the papacy an inexperienced diocesan official, and hasn’t quite caught the hang of using precise language to express himself on a global scale, or hasn’t noticed that what he says off the cuff is broadcasted and can be twisted by the media.

On the contrary, I think Pope Francis is very savvy indeed.  In the new Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii gaudium (the Joy of the Gospel) he emphasizes the importance of evangelizing the culture on its own terms, not by compromising our values to fit the times, but rather, by speaking a language that the times can comprehend and will gravitate towards.

It is obvious that he does not have a problem being extremely explicit when he wants to be; take, for example, this quote from the Exhortation: “A preacher who does not prepare is not ‘spiritual’; he is dishonest and irresponsible with the gifts he has received.” (EG 145). He has spoken clearly and firmly on moral issues like abortion, homosexual ‘marriage’, and the challenges facing the family.  When he talks about female roles in the Church in Evangelii gaudium, he says, “The reservation of the priesthood to males, as a sign of Christ the Spouse who gives himself in the Eucharist, is not a question open to discussion” (EG 104). Boom. End of story. Pope Francis is not afraid to be clear, nor is he incapable.

So why is he accused of naivete, or why do left-leaning individuals think, at least at first, that he might be on the brink of an overhaul of Catholic morality?

I see it in terms of a song by M. Ward, one of my favorite artists.  The song Fisher of Men says:

“He tied a feather to the hook for to get you to look
And by the time you know what took you, you already took
He’s got a line in the water, he’s a fisher of men

And he put the thorns on the rose for to get you to bleed
And by the time you know what stuck you, the pain’s in deep
He’s got a line in the water, he’s a fisher of men
He’s got a lot on the line, he’s a fisher of men”

Similarly, Francis’ ‘feather on the hook’ is his tendency to begin speaking on common, general topic.  He uses the buzzwords to get the attention, like a teaser trailer for a movie, then reiterates the pith of Catholic teaching in a careful, gentle way that highlights its freshness and appropriateness for our time and culture.

For example, let’s look briefly (very briefly) at the portion of Evangelii gaudium on multiculturalism.

Francis’ method of dealing with this topic is not the accident of an inexperienced Pontiff.  Rather, it is conscious rhetoric.  Aware of “our difficulty in restoring a mystical adherence to the faith in a pluralistic religious landscape” (EG 70), Pope Francis quotes John Paul II in calling for “the faith and the life of the Church [to] be expressed in legitimate forms appropriate for each culture” (EG 118).  He doesn’t merely dump this in the middle of the Exhortation, to form an ambiguous glob of multiculturalism that can be applied at the whim of the reader–that would be the result of inexperience or naivete, or even of misdirected good intentions.  Instead, he qualifies his statement with the understanding that cultural diversity must be “properly understood” (EG 117) in order to be useful to the Church’s work of evangelization, and develops the idea that “We would not do justice to the logic of the incarnation if we thought of Christianity as monocultural and monotonous” (EG 117). This might seem radical, but it is actually only an old tenet of Catholicism phrased anew.

St. Paul puts it this way…

“What therefore you unknowingly worship, I proclaim to you,” (Acts 17:23)

…while Francis says:

“As part of his mysterious love for humanity, God furnishes the totality of the faithful with an instinct of faith – sensus fidei – which helps them to discern what is truly of God” (EG 119).

What I’m getting at (without getting further carried away breaking down specifics from the Exhortation) is that Francis is clearly very intelligent, very well educated, and very methodical.  He knows the Truth, he wants to speak the Truth, and he has discerned the best possible way for him to do so in a way that will bear the most fruit in this time and place.  Sometimes his words may come across a little jarring to Catholics–perhaps because we are used to what he would call “fixed formulations learned by heart or by specific words which express an absolutely invariable content” (EG 129), but given the clear and courageous way in which he delineates our morals and tells the world that ‘they are not open to discussion’, I don’t think we need fear (not that we need to anyway, since of course the Holy Spirit protects the papacy).  Rather, perhaps these jarring moments are an invitation to look closely at what the Pope is saying, and to learn from his example in how he is saying it.

“He’s a fisher of men, he’s as wise as a prizefighter.”




Meghan Garcia

Meghan Garcia

Meghan is a 25 year old graduate student of English Literature. She has a passion for reading and writing, in tandem with a big mouth (though you'd never guess that). She has four younger siblings, a wonderful fiance, two dogs, and a penchant for Scottish accents, fairy tales, and baking. She overachieved in undergraduate by also majoring in Medieval History. She's also Catholic, a woman, and, thanks to a combination of homeschooling and college, prone to logic, and so is in the unique position of being sensitive to moral/cultural issues like feminism, abortion, marriage, etc, and being able to comment clearly, if not insightfully, on them.

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20 thoughts on “Rhetorical Questions: In Defense of Pope Francis”

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    I believe in one Holy, Catholic and apostolic Church which means I believe that Pope Francis is Christ’s Vicar which in turn means that I trust him. If I don’t understand what he is saying, which I don’t always, then i assume my understanding is insufficient or incorrect in some way.

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    ” Francis is ….very methodical. He knows the Truth, he wants to speak the Truth”.
    But the sad thing is a lot of times, he does not articulate this truth clearly so I don’t know how he can be methodical when he has the habit of making off the cuff statements that are puzzling and ambiguous. Quite often, you wonder whether he is speaking the Truth with a capital T considering that there are many times when he seems to be going against the teachings of the Church.
    Take communion for example. He says that it is a sacrament of forgiveness and healing for the sinful. But if you take it at that (based simply on what he has articulated) then one can say, then surely every sinful Tom, Dick and Harry can just front up to communion (baptized or not, mortal sin or not) if they want to be forgiven and healed? What is the point of the Sacrament of Confession then? I know a priest who no longer believes in the Sacrament of Confession and does not administer it because he believes like Pope Francis does, that communion is the sacrament of forgiveness and healing.

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      But the Eucharist most certainly is a sacrament of forgiveness and healing! Countless saints and doctors of the Church have said as much. Only those intent on dispute would rush off saying this means it is only that and therefore such words are misleading. The Holy Father can’t quote 10 paragraphs of the Catechism every time he opens his mouth

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        MarcAlcan, what John said above is my answer as well: One thing I am adamant about when it comes to Pope Francis is context. It isn’t fair to quote half a sentence or a single sentence and expect everything ever related to the topic to be included. Or, as John put it, he can’t quote the whole Catechism in every line. People that don’t really want to hear what he has to say are going to listen to a line, maybe two, and will ignore the surrounding contexts or other statements. (Not saying you are one of those people!)

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        Meghan, you write very well and I’m certainly going to keep looking out for your posts. Where in the world are you? I’m in the UK. Sounds like you’re well steeped in the Catholic faith – I’ve come home lately, which is rather exciting at 60!

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        Thank you, John! I am in the States, in Florida. I was blessed to receive a wonderful Catholic homeschooled education, so I have more formation than many nowadays, and am very grateful. Congratulations and welcome home 🙂

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        Actually, I think you are both right. In Jesus ministry, his main objective was to bring people to the truth. When the apostles came to him complaining of some that were baptizing in his name even though they were not teaching all he taught, he told them to let them continue. Why, because as they came into union with true Christians, they would be taught the whole truth.

        The problem I see is that many or most of the parishes I have been associated with do not teach the whole truth. They only teach the part about ‘you are forgiven’ and not the part about ‘sin no more’. Then many or most of the young people who are never taught truth, wander off into a sinful and deadly (mortal sin) lifestyle. Thankfully I learned the ‘whole truth’ after thirty years of wandering in a wasteland of sin. Anytime during that thirty years I could have died unrepentant and sinful. Who would be at fault, me for wanting sin AND those who didn’t teach me the whole truth.

        What it comes down to is that Pope Benedict was very good at hurding the ‘cats’ (wayward teaching parishes) into parishes that now teach truth. In our diocese prior to baptism, the parents of the babys must get several months of solid Catholic teaching, likewise for marriage, first communion and confirmation.

        Now Pope Francis is aiming to bring back wayward Catholics and evangelize others. Given the groundwork Pope Benedict laid down, we can do great things under Pope Francis. My concern is that those Catholics who don’t like Catholic teaching will use Pope Francis’s evangelical statements too further their anti-Catholic teachings.

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    Thank you, Meghan, for your lovely piece in defence of Pope Francis. Young as you are, you have shown wisdom and clear thinking in your analysis. I always wonder too why the right-wing always accuse Pope Francis of lack of clarity in his expressions, especially as he is being compared to BXVI. They seem to expect rhetoric that would cater to those with advanced university degrees only (which to their elitist mentality, is clear language – forgetting the global audience that Pope Francis wishes to address don’t all have have MA or Ph.D degrees). They’re denigrating the intelligence of Pope Francis like they did to Pope John XXIII as if they’re uneducated popes, and mere simpletons. I find that calumny hard to understand. It is evident Pope Francis is an intellectual with wisdom, humility, common sense to use simple descriptive language that can be easily understood by all. That’s why I find it surprising why the right-wingers regard Pope Francis’ style of expressing himself ambiguous. What’s not to understand? They should act more like Christians and stop the calumny against this humble and simple pope, who by his words and actions, exemplifies Jesus. What could be wrong with that? They (trads) act like the Scribes and Pharisees who made it their goal to condemn and crucify Jesus.

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      I’ve noticed that too. I have a traditional background, but find myself distancing from the movement as a whole because I think, as objectively beautiful and valuable as the old rite is, it’s being used as an end in and of itself, which ends up trickling far beyond liturgy and into, as you point out, attitudes towards the Pope, etc. I hope to write a piece on Francis’ criticisms of traditionalists soon, so please keep an eye out and let me know your thoughts once it’s up!

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        I’ll look forward to reading that. I’m trying to get the measure of all the various currents and streams in the Church. I’ve just been going with the flow (to continue the metaphors): introduced to the Church by Catholic Charismatics, and then taught and confirmed in a very traditional parish

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    Meghan, one cannot, however, defend the fact that prior to being elected pope, Gorge Bergoglio condoned same-sex sexual relationships that are “private”, do not include children, and are not called marriage, as does Cardinal Schonborn, Cardinal Pell, and Archbishop Nichols.

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    One cannot support same-sex sexual relationships and thus same-sex sexual acts and remain in communion with Christ, and His One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. No doubt a lobby exists in the hierarchy of The Catholic Church that denies The Word of God Is The Word of God.

    Fatima, truth or incredible coincidence? While pope Francis has free reign in The Vatican, from the recent video of Pope Benedict, it appears that our Holy Father’s movements are somewhat controlled. In fact, our Holy Father did not Bless himself with the Holy Water. Strange.

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      So who has the ‘true word’ and how does one know its true? If leaders can be wrong about the ‘truth’, where does truth come from?

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