With the Pope’s visit to the US, people—including Catholics—are scrutinizing his words to use them in order to justify their political positions. If the individual agrees with his words, he is a great Pope, while if they don’t, he is not. Unfortunately this mindset seeks to take the Pope’s words and cram them into a dualistic political mindset: “Either the Pope is conservative or liberal.”
On one hand, we get Nancy Pelosi’s reprehensible statement of “I actually agree with the pope on more issues than many Catholics who agree with him on one issue” where that “one issue" is abortion and St. John Paul II spoke of "Precisely in an age when the inviolable rights of the person are solemnly proclaimed and the value of life is publicly affirmed, the very right to life is being denied or trampled upon, especially at the more significant moments of existence: the moment of birth and the moment of death." [John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae #18]—a pretty big disconnect. On the other hand, we get the accusation that the Pope is a liberal-leftist-marxist-who-should-stick-to-religion-and-not-get-into-politics (whew!) whenever he speaks on a topic they dislike.
Both views miss the point. Catholicism isn’t a faith of “Well I may have got an F when it comes to abortion but I get an A+ when it comes to holding political positions I can sort of equate with the Catholic teaching, therefore I get a grade of C as a Catholic!” (conservatives would reverse this and come to the same conclusion). Catholicism is about seeking to be faithful to God in all things, repenting and turning back to Him when and where we fall short.
The politician who ignores the Church teaching on abortion does evil. That’s undeniable. But the politician who ignores the Church teaching on social justice also does evil. Does that mean that abortion and social justice issues are moral equivalents? Definitely not. But to say that Issue #1 is worse than Issue #2 therefore Issue #2 is not important is simply false. The unrepented mortal sin will damn a soul whether it is abortion or whether it is adultery.
Labelling the Pope Based on Personal Ideas of What We Think Should Have Been Said
Unfortunately there is a strong anti-Francis mindset (it’s beginning to be called Papal derangement syndrome elsewhere) where the Pope’s orthodoxy is judged based on how often he mentions a topic and how forcefully he does so. It’s so predictable, it's almost like a simple computer program:
10 IF POPE DOESN’T MENTION ISSUE X DURING ADDRESS GOTO 20; ELSE GO TO 30
20 PRINT “THE POPE NEVER TALKS ABOUT X! HE’S A BAD POPE!”; GOTO 10
30 PRINT “THE POPE DOESN’T TALK ENOUGH ABOUT X! HE’S A BAD POPE”; GOTO 10
This kind of mindset assumes that there is no merit to other topics the Pope might discuss and that if he doesn’t make Issue X the centerpiece of his visit to America, then there was no merit to his visit. In such a case, the individual has made himself or herself into a judge who determines the importance of what issues to discuss in the Catholic teaching and has actually deafened himself or herself to hearing what the Pope actually has to say.
Unfortunately the Pope, like his predecessors, have been slandered. Both the supporters and detractors of Francis, St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI have bought into the myth that their positions are political. The only difference is that Francis is maligned as being a liberal while St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI were maligned as being conservative. But neither accusation is true. If you read Sollicitudo rei socialis by St. John Paul II and Caritas in veritate by Benedict XVI said similar things on social justice and responsibility to creation: Indeed, all three recognized the importance of, and drew from, Blessed Paul VI and Populorum progressio. But while his predecessor’s teachings have been forgotten already, Pope Francis is maligned as being a liberal-leftist-marxist-modernist-heretic (whew!) when all three of them said the same thing.
What We Think Should Have Been Said May Not Be the Best Thing to Be Said
We need to realize that we are not the Pope and do not have his insights into what he thinks this country needs to hear when it comes to being evangelized. Think of it this way. The Jews, in expecting the Messiah, legitimately were concerned about justice against the Romans and wanted Him to declare Himself (see John 10:24 for example and Matthew 11:3ff). But Jesus’ mission was not what the people expected it to be. Those Jews waiting for Jesus to speak about those issues only were going to wind up disappointed. But those who came to listen and learn from what Jesus said would be satisfied.
I’m not suggesting that the Pope = Jesus here. But the Pope is imitating Jesus in his words and actions in America. When he speaks to the President, Congress, the UN, the Bishops and us what he believes we need to hear—not in condemnation but in gentle encouragement. If we dismiss this message, labeling it as not important, we will end up frustrated and dissatisfied by what he said when his visit to our nation ends. But if we approach his addresses with the mindset of “What is he saying to me and how should I apply it to my life?” we will end up enriched by this visit.
Now, yes, I would like it if the Pope chose to speak more overtly on the moral issues like abortion, “same sex marriage,” and the like. But I do believe he is reaching out gently to people who are not ready for the solid food of the Gospel (see 1 Corinthians 3:1-3), speaking to them gently, not harshly. We should certainly recognize the possibility of the people estranged from or ignorant of the Church being driven away from listening if the Pope spoke as we might wish he would.
Ultimately we should come to learn from what the Pope is teaching and not judge him on what we want him to say.