Is Pope Francis Too Liberal ?

I post this today, not to get into politics, but to point out something related to Catholicism...

Sarah Palin, former Vice Presidential candidate for the Republican Party, and icon of American Neoconservatism, commented that she thought Pope Francis sounded a little too liberal for her. To her credit, she did say this may be tainted by the news media so she will not judge with any certainty. (We should give her credit for that.) I think however, this comment is reflective of a particular problem in American society.

We tend to measure people by sound bites and then compare them to our own ideology. Sarah Palin was raised Catholic, but she and her parents left the Church when she was in her pre-teen years. Usually when Catholics do this, it is because they've judged the Church through sound bites. They've taken little snippets of Church teaching and/or practice, and compared them with their own ideology. Finding a discrepancy, they leave the Church, rather than dig deeper into Church teaching with humility, and try to conform their own ideology to the teachings of Christ.

Here in Palin's assessment of Pope Francis, we see a similar pattern. Granted, the news media is doing a terrible job representing the pope's message, but it's also fair to say the pope has opened himself up to this with some very candid "off the cuff" interviews. I have spent a great deal of time reviewing the words of Pope Francis, and while he does phrase them in ways that make me uncomfortable, I have yet to find anything that could be categorised as unorthodox or "liberal." What I see in the pope's comments is the gospel of Jesus Christ, which is neither liberal nor conservative by American standards. It is simply the gospel. To a liberal ideologue, the gospel of Christ will seem too conservative. To a conservative ideologue, the gospel of Christ will seem too liberal. That's just the way it goes when we compare the gospel of Christ to our own human ideologies. The way to be open and receptive to the teachings of Christ is to NOT be an ideologue. We need to put aside our personal and political ideologies and just be open and receptive to what Christ and his Church are teaching us.

I don't put any blame on Sarah Palin for this. She too is a victim of a much larger problem in American culture, and it exists on both the Left and the Right. We can only speculate about which particular aspect of Pope Francis' comments she found too "liberal" for her. Was it one of those comments completely misrepresented by the media, such as Atheists can go to heaven? Was it a comment he made, but then quoted by the media out of context, such as when it comes to gays "who am I to judge?" Or was it a comment related to economics, which the media probably got right, and would most certainly sound too "liberal" to a Neoconservative's ears? Maybe it's all of the above. I don't know.

 There is not much I can say about that which the news media has misrepresented. Pope Francis has always emphasised the human element of sinners, and in this aspect he is simply emulating Christ....

Forgive the sin, do not judge the sinner, but go and sin no more. 

 This concept seems to be incomprehensible to many American liberals, who cannot distinguish between sin (action) and sinner (human). For them, to forgive means to condone, and that is that. So they forgive the sin, do not judge the sinner, and stop there. The "go and sin no more" part escapes them. Meanwhile, many American conservatives tend to get along just fine with the "go and sin no more" part, but have difficulty with the "do not judge the sinner" part. I think our ideologies hinder our ability to fully grasp the gospel of Christ.

Now when it comes to economic comments the pope has made, what can I say? The popes have railed against the popular economic constructs of both capitalism and socialism for over 100 years now. What Pope Francis has said is nothing new. During the 1970s and 80's, while socialism was the greatest threat, Pope John Paul II spent a good deal of time combating that. During the 1990s and early 2000s, while capitalism was making strides, the focus of Pope Bendedict XVI shifted against that. Go back all the way to the 1890s, and you'll see that Pope Leo XIII railed against both capitalism and socialism together. The popes' position on economics, for over a century now, has been doggedly distributist, which is based on both solidarity and subsidiarity working together in synthesis. It puts both capitalism and socialism in their place as oppressive systems that hurt the family and the little guy. To a liberal, distributism sounds too conservative. To a conservative, distributism sounds too liberal. As a distributist myself, I have been derided as both a socialist and a capitalist. Go figure. This is what ideology does to people I guess.

UPDATE 11-15-2013...
Sarah Palin has recently apologised for her remarks about Pope Francis. This blogger wants to thank Mrs. Palin for her kind gesture, but also assure her that no apology was necessary.  She stated openly in her initial remarks that she was reserving judgement and didn't trust the media's representation. I thought her initial remarks were a fair representation of her first impression. It's not her fault that her first impression was created by a news media with an agenda. Nothing she said was degrading or anti-Catholic. No apology was necessary.  It's all good Sarah, and thanks for reading my blog. ;)


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Matthew M said…
I may be totally wrong but I do not trust this Pope. He appears to want to tear down everything his predecessor built up. Why didn't he include Pope Pius XII in the upcoming consecrations? Another slap in the face of conservative and traditional Catholics. It would not surprise me if he tried to restore the horrible translations of the mass and force the Ordinariates to compromise the liturgical practices toward the abuses now done in the Roman Rite proper.
Sorry, that's just how I feel. Not much HOPE as I see it. My FAITH has been wavering since Good Pope Benedict XVI abdicated the Throne of Saint Peter. :-(
Shane Schaetzel said…
Matthew, you are not alone in those sentiments, but I do believe you (and others) are mistaken in your conclusions.

Pope Francis, in spite of everything he has done to make us all feel uncomfortable, has actually done nothing to tear down or destroy the work of Pope Benedict XVI. In some cases, he is leaving it alone, and in other cases, he has actually strengthened it. For example, we have this recent report...

'“I met Pope Francis very recently and he told me that he has no problem with the old rite, and neither does he have any problem with lay groups and associations like yours that promote it,” Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos told members of Una Voce International (FIUV), who were in Rome for a general assembly.' -- source

Then we have the example of the pope celebrating mass ad orientem, almost entirely in Latin, recently. Granted, it was the Novus Ordo mass, but here we have example of a definite nod toward tradition.

Finally, the pope recently not only confirmed the mission of the personal ordinariates for Anglicans, but also expanded their mission to include reaching out to lapsed Catholics, even allowing lapsed Catholics to become ordinariate members if they return to the Church through ordinariate ministry. Yet again, this is another nod toward tradition.

Francis is no Benedict, but I don't think he's trying to be. At the same time, he is not opposed to Benedict either, and the two are good friends. Be careful what you read in the news media, and be especially careful of how these things are sometimes interpreted by traditionalists within the Church.

I have said for months now that it is too early to tell what the Francis papacy will look like. He hasn't even been on the throne of Peter for a year. We will get a better (and more clear) picture by March of 2015 -- 2 years after his election. Remember, Pope Benedict XVI didn't really start to show his true colours until summer of 2007 - a full 2 years after he was elected.