If there is one thing we have come to expect from the Francis papacy, it is the frequency of off-the-cuff comments which are predictably misreported by the secular media and feed a certain narrative that creates even more misinformation amongst the general populace. Catholics, being often caught in the middle of the secular frenzy, tend to pick sides and “choose” where their allegiance lies, be it tradition, past popes, the magisterium, etc. The latest example is no different.
On Thursday, February 18, 2016, while aboard the return flight from Juarez, Mexico to Rome, Pope Francis took questions from several assembled reporters. Part of the answer he gave to one particular question about Donald Trump is now possibly as famous as his “Who am I to judge?” quote. The simple answer – “a person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian” – has since been reported and repeated an incalculable number of times and has caused intense reactions from everyone across the spectrum. A great number of people, including Catholics, were eager to point out that Vatican City has walls around a portion of it. Still others were gleeful that he would seemingly take a shot at Trump. But the biggest critique of the entire situation may have been from people upset with the Pope for “inserting” himself into presidential campaign politics.
The day after the press conference, John L. Allen, Jr. wrote an opinion piece on the question of whether it is appropriate for Pope Francis, or any pope, to get involved in politics. He writes, in part:
“Many of those upset at Francis for calling out Trump on immigration, for instance, don’t get outraged when popes back conservative positions in the culture wars.
Meanwhile, many on the left complain about popes and Catholic bishops being overly ‘political’ on abortion and gay rights, and in the same breath demand that they invest the same energy on social justice questions.
The question here is not which political positions a pope should take, but whether he’s entitled to voice any at all.”
Pope Pius XI is reported to have once said: “When Politics come near the Altar, then Religion, the Church, the Pontiff have not only the right but the duty to give directions and indications to be followed by Catholics.” In other words, whether you like it or not, the Catholic Church and the Pope have a duty to tell us how to respond to certain political issues that directly affect the Church and us as individual Catholics. Sadly, Americans tend to draw a line between the two. We like to keep “religion” and “politics” in neat, separate boxes, as partially explained in a previous post on why the separation of Church and State is nonsense.
It is true that not everything the Pope says requires our unquestioned belief; we don’t have to assent to every word he utters as if it were the Gospel. But he is our shepherd, the pastor of the Universal Church, the Vicar of Christ on earth. His priority is the salvation of souls around the world, not just in the United States. If you don’t like something he says, and you are tempted to angrily lash out, maybe that means you need to search yourself more deeply to discern what our shepherd is saying. As men, this can be especially difficult. It might mean we have to admit we were wrong or foolish. But we will be better, stronger men and more faith-filled Catholics by doing so.
With this in mind, whether you agree or disagree with what Pope Francis recently said, how he said it, or whether he should be “inserting” himself into politics at all, if we take a moment for an honest assessment, the most troubling aspect to the whole affair was arguably the swift reaction of our fellow Catholics to very pointedly and negatively criticize our Holy Father out of a well-intentioned sense of patriotism or in deference to their preferred candidate for president – the same candidate who a few months ago said he was going to have to “scare the Pope.” Such a remarkably uncharitable reaction from so many faithful Catholics was a sad thing to observe, because if you are Catholic and you don’t like what the Pope has to say, the prudent thing to do is to keep your criticism private, just as you would do with a family member or close friend. These recurrent untoward situations due to our Holy Father’s comments have already created scandal amongst the faithful and non-faithful alike. Don’t further the scandal. And for (Saint) Pete’s sake, don’t use your criticism of the Pope’s comments to further the agenda of your favorite candidate or political party.
In this country we are already persecuted for our faith by secularists, modernists, atheists, and all sorts of other anti-Catholic ideologies. Ours may not be the same mistreatment as Christians in the Middle East, but when nuns are forced to pay for contraception, there is no other name for it: it is persecution. So, when Catholics begin to publicly and loudly criticize our Holy Father to score political points for their chosen political candidate, we play right into their hands. We may not face a machete at our neck, but we face a wedge between our families, communities, and our Church. We see it already with unpopular Church teachings like abortion and contraception. “See,” they smugly say. “Even your fellow Catholics don’t follow the Pope and the teachings of your archaic Church.” These ideologues will not hesitate to use us for their own interests whenever it suits them, but we must refuse to be used for their secularist, anti-Catholic agenda. As Catholic men, we should more willingly die for our faith than knowingly give anyone the slightest opportunity to divide the Body of Christ.
As a Catholic man, whether you are upset (or overjoyed) by Pope Francis’ recent comments please ask yourself: does my primary allegiance lie with Christ, the Eternal Church, and His Vicar on earth? Or with the United States and her secular political leaders which will soon pass like every other empire in history?
I choose Christ and His Church.
¡Viva Christo Rey!