With the ecological slideshow on the side of the Vatican, detractors of the Pope added another perceived offense to the now-long list of Francis’ supposed errors, gaffes, and outright heresies as the pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church.
Why a slideshow with endangered species? Why, when the unborn are slaughtered in such higher numbers?
The drumbeats in the Catholic press and blogosphere comboxes continue, decrying him as a liberal, a socialist, and atheist, or a deceived fool. At their worst, they engage in tasteless meme-bashing, photoshopping his face over that of a cruel Roman soldier scourging Christ. Francis’ defenders, shrinking in number either out of exhaustion or acquiescence to the other side, have begun fielding the Francis-haters’ talking points on social media, the comboxes, and over after-Mass donuts more than in traditional media.
I saw a meme where they took a picture of the pope, and he was wearing a rainbow bracelet! He’s in favor of gay marriage!
But something is getting lost here that I would suggest needs to be looked at amidst the frenzy of yea-and-nay-sayers:
He’s the Pope, folks.
Respect for Office
As a teacher and a parent and a United States citizen, I teach my children that even if they don’t like the decisions made by their teachers, parents, or president, there are ways to criticize a person while still respecting his office.
Christ Himself criticized the Pharisees, yes. They were the religious leaders of the people who should have known better, yes. But (and this is very, very important):
You are not Christ.
Peter himself, when filled with the Holy Spirit after Pentecost, did not use harsh invective on the religious leaders when brought before them (Acts 4:1-22); it is Christ alone who has the authority to call people a brood of vipers, or use similar levels of criticism. Unless we find ourselves vested with more authority than Peter, we’d do best not to try and assume we have more leeway than Peter himself did.
More to the point: Even if you were somehow divinely authorized to use harsh criticism of Francis, it’s worth remembering that he lives in Rome. You won’t, in simple terms, effect anything positive with screams, shrieks or the unfriending of those who disagree with you, anymore than a high school gossip queen can affect the actions of the school principal through a carping session with her friends at the lunch table.
In fact, such actions do more to hurt the gossiper herself and poison the atmosphere of the school than to change the principal. Likewise, cruel and uncharitable actions towards Pope Francis do more to hurt your soul and those around you than to actually change the way the Holy Father does things.
But when asked about gay men, he said ‘who am I to judge?’ He’s in favor of homosexual activity! And didn’t Francis banish a faithful priest official to Malta, or something?
Even if Pope Francis were guilty of doing bad things for bad reasons, it is still true that he heads the Church. And as God backs Her, Holy Mother Church can take care of herself just fine, thank you, without our collective invective. By definition, Pope Francis is the visible head of Christ’s Church on earth, and the leader of the Bride of Christ. The Church was founded by Christ Himself, as chronicled in Matthew 16:18. He named Peter as head of the Church on earth, not because of his own abilities or his orthodoxy, but because of his public declaration of what the Holy Spirit had revealed to him. Peter’s leadership role is quite obvious to those who read the Gospel with honest eyes, as Peter is always named first in a list of the Apostles (Matt. 10:14; Mk. 3:16-19; Lk. 6:14-1 5; Acts 1:13), speaks for the Apostles when he is present (Mt. 18:21; Mk. 8:28; Lk. 12:41; Jn. 6:69), and announces that lying to him is the same as lying to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3).
Even if we think Francis is unsuited to the papacy because of ideology, was Peter ideal for the position? Hardly. Though he is today known as greatest of the popes, he started out as the worst.
The Errors of Peter
The penalty for an offense increases with the authority of the person you offend against. Punching the nose of a random stranger versus the nose of a president ought to illustrate this principle. Punching a stranger may get you probation. Punching the president might get you shot or locked away in a little room with no windows sewing parachutes for the rest of your life.
How much, then, would be the penalty for punching out God?
Peter denied three times that he knew Christ. Beyond the obvious betrayal of his friend and Lord, Peter is using the same term Pharaoh used when he would not recognize the authority of the Hebrew’s God: “I do not know him.”
Thus, not only is Peter betraying Christ on a personal level; he is also (perhaps unknowingly) echoing the blasphemy of Pharaoh, typologically denying not only Christ Himself, but His divine authority as well.
Peter thus failed on the spiritual, personal and professional levels of his vocation- an unholy trinity of full-blown fiascos. An offense leveled at more than just a Church office, cleric, curia or Mrs. Basie Weddell of Saint Wolfgang’s parish in Bethesda, Maryland. It was an offense against God. An offense the magnitude of which saw Adam and all his descendants banned from the Garden of Eden forever.
And yet, despite all this, Peter went on to be the greatest of all Popes.
The Duty to Charity
Much later, the Church faced even more widespread problems, yet managed to survive the persecutions of Emperor Diocletian, the heresy of Arias, and the scandalous lives of corrupt leaders like Alexander VI.
Maybe…but I saw where he called Adam and Eve just a story! The Church believes it was true! Francis is a heretic!
Does this mean we cannot ever criticize the actions of a Pope? Hardly. Saint Paul notes that even he opposed Peter to his face over a matter of personal conduct, unrelated to the doctrine of the Church (Galatians 2:11). However, there is a grave difference between telling a parent that they have erred versus making a cruel and evil meme about it and cutting off anyone who supports that parent.
But he’s a liberal! How can you defend someone who brings the Modernist heresy into the Vatican?
Let’s say Francis was a liberal. And not a classical Liberal, but a liberal in the modern sense. A pro-abortion choice, pro-gay marriage, anti-traditionalist, Modernist, Jansenist, Ultramontinist, and ten other kinds of heretical ‘ists.’ Making or spreading sacrilegious memes is not part of the solution. Screeching that the Pope is something akin to an antipope over a slideshow or comments twisted by overzealous translators on an airplane is not the solution. It is in fact a sin, and serves only to spread gossip against Christ’s own representative on Earth.
It’s normal to be frustrated if you see something you love going in a direction you don’t like. Does this mean we ought not ever say anything against the actions of a pope?
Not at all.
But any good parent knows the difference between constructive criticism of a child and abusive polemics.
Speak the truth, but in love. Pray and fast for the Pope. He has literally the toughest job in the world that any man can have. Continue to obey the Church, and the Pope in the areas of faith and morals.
But he said that using air-conditioners in the summer is a mortal sin!
No, he didn’t. He used the growing use of AC as an example of potential over-consumption, which is very different. Speak the truth in love, and please be certain you have your facts straight, first.
But (and this is very, very important) even if Francis is a liberal, even if he were the kind of liberal that would have a clown mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, in the end the Church will survive and continue its mission. Francis will be judged by how he did his job, and you and I will be judged based upon how well we did ours.
But what if we are worried about the Church? It is worth remembering that a Church that survived the impulsiveness of Peter, the worldliness of Alexander VI, and the deformation of the so-called Reformation can survive the worst that Pope Francis can do. It’s also worth noting that a medieval layperson named Francis was able to singlehandedly reform the entire Church in medieval Italy, and did so without harsh criticism or the internet, but by reforming himself so well that all of Christendom follows his example today.
Pray, hope, don’t worry…and stop reposting those memes. A rosary for the Holy Father, or a Friday spent silently fasting for him will do far more than reposting a meme ever will.